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Constance Alexander: Ideas abound for columns, as does thirst for justice, especially for accessibility

Fifty columns, averaging about 700 words each, add up to 35,000 words for “Main Street” 2019. Readers ask if coming up with topics is difficult, and the answer is no. In fact, there is too much to write about; ideas abound.

In the past few years, “Main Street” has showcased examples of Accessibility, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else, to participate in the mainstream of American life.

John Pollpeter, a case in point, was profiled in a column in June. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disorder characterized by breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. As his sight degenerated, John continued to work toward his goal of being a wildlife biologist. Today, he experiences the ADA in action at Land Between the Lakes, where he works and manages the Nature Station.

Another local example is Carrissa Johnson, who manages the Murray branch of the Center for Accessible Living. CAL is a disability resource center, governed by people with disabilities, focused on promoting equal access and equal and independent living status for all people with disabilities.

John Pollpeter’s and Carrissa Johnson’s compelling stories were told in “Main Street” this year, but the most unforgettable account of accessibility was of little Max Lindberg and his family.

Max’s mom, Megan Scholl Lindberg, graduated from Murray State University’s MFA program in the years before she had Malena, now age 6, and two-year-old twins, Max and Major. Max has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and is considered medically fragile. He relies on daily skilled intervention and special accommodation to make sure he is safe and comfortable. The whole Lindberg family, especially big sister Malena, have been fierce advocates regarding accessibility issues that limit Max’s participation in things any toddler deserves.

In August, a column highlighted Malena’s efforts to encourage people to say “Hi” to Max by creating a video with the message to treat her little brother with respect and goodwill. Not long after that, something else happened, a reminder to us all of the responsibility to comply with provisions of the ADA happily, willingly, in the spirit of inclusion and fair play.

This is what happened: One day, after Megan pulled into a handicapped-accessible parking space and unloading area, she was getting everything together and preparing Max to disembark. When a jeep parked in the cross-hatched area designated for access, the driver leaped out. She just had to run “a quick” errand.

When she completed the task, she backed out and her vehicle hit Max’s wheelchair. Fortunately, Max was not yet in the chair, but the potential consequences of such carelessness were chilling.

A nearby policeman witnessed the violation and gave the woman a ticket for illegal parking. When the driver requested a court date to argue her case, Megan was called by the police department to be a witness.

“I cried instantly,” Megan recalls, “because it feels like the driver doesn’t ‘get it.’”

Instead of being grateful she didn’t injure a little boy, instead of admitting she couldn’t afford a ticket, instead of realizing why that area was off-limits, the careless woman was fighting.

“The handicap sign is not luxury parking,” Megan explained. “It’s safe unloading and safe/quick entry for those who need it. The stripes have meaning,” she continued.

“Please, I beg, respect our community. We are trying our best just to get where we’re going.”

Megan and the police officer kept their oaths to tell the truth but the other driver did not. “There was no owning her mistake, no recognizing why it’s not ok, and just a lack of respect for a valuable member of society,” Ms. Lindberg remarked.

In the end, the woman was found guilty and fined almost $500. When the verdict was rendered, others in the courtroom — including attorneys, other defendants, and even the judge — were pleased that justice was served.

Best of all, “Max smiled so big,” his mother reports.

So if you are making resolutions for 2020, don’t forget what you read in “Main Street” this year. Remember Max Lindberg, accessibility, the ADA, and how every community, and every person in the community, can resolve to fight for the civil rights everyone deserves.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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