Are Safety Concerns Going Too Far?
Being vocal is important, since ADA laws are already in place.
The Antique Tractor and Threshing Show took place at the Freeport, Ill., County Fairgrounds on September 18–20, 2009. In the past, I had attended this event because I am an enthusiast of this type of history. However, at this year’s showing, I was not prepared for the way I was received.
I am a 100% disabled veteran from an injury to the C–7, T1–2 area of my spinal cord. In layman’s terms, I am what is referred to as a “walking quad.” I am fortunate to be able to walk a little bit, and I use an electric scooter—a “medically assisted device.”
I arrived at the show with my wife and son. I drove to the gate, paid my entrant fee, and asked for directions to the handicap area. The woman collecting money directed me to a parking area close to most of the show’s activity.
We unloaded my scooter and were in the process of moving toward the tractor area when we were approached by two reserve sheriff deputies riding in a quad runner. They stopped us and began to question us as to where we were going. I explained we were there to see the festivities. They then asked why I parked where I had, and I explained that the woman at the gate directed us to that spot. The officer then said I was not in the handicap area, and when I asked where that was, he pointed to a very isolated spot, far from the main activity.
We asked if they wanted us to relocate there, and one said no, we were okay. The deputy then said he noticed that when we drove in, he did not see a handicap sticker and wanted to know if
I had one.
We said we did in fact have one and asked if we should display it even though we were not in a designated handicap area. So far, all this was agreeable with the deputies. Then one explained I would have to travel to an administration building on the far side of the grounds to register my electric scooter.
When I asked why, he said all motorized vehicle users had to register, read a two-page report, and sign it for insurance purposes. Then, he/she would have to wear and display a large ribbon and a button certifying the medically assisted device was approved to be at the event.
The deputies emphasized that even power-chair users would have to wear the ribbon and button. If we did not agree to this policy, we would not be allowed on the grounds. They explained they were enforcing an insurance policy that included all steam tractors, gasoline tractors, cars and trucks, horse-drawn equipment, and power wheelchairs and scooters.
The following Monday I began calling various agencies and organizations involved with people with disabilities and with any possible interaction with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By the end of the day, I had gathered a good consensus that ADA’s tenets were being violated by the people sponsoring the Antique Tractor Show.
Besides being a professional writer and an investigative reporter, and a life member of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), I brought to the table a little bit of knowledge about what was being done to dishonor people with disabilities.
I contacted individuals at PVA—notably Gary McDermott, Vaughan chapter—as well as Bill Bogbun, Illinois Governor’s liaison officer for handicap parking; Mercedes Rauen, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois; the folks at Equip for Equity in Rock Island, Ill.; and the office of Mike Boland (D–Ill.), where I spoke with Mike Huntoon, and together we coordinated efforts to approach the president and board members of the Antique Tractor Association.
When I finally spoke to the president, he became very aggressive, and one of his concluding statements to me was, “The problem with you people is that you are always complaining that you want to be treated like normal people. Well, here’s your chance to get on board.”
One of his other board members told me in an interview that their organization has in the past had problems with people with disabilities.
I reported these details to Huntoon at Mike Boland’s office. A short time later I received a call from the president of the Antique Tractor Association, apologizing for the way he had spoken to me earlier and that his organization was beginning the process of rewriting its policy concerning people with disabilities who attend their shows. He asked me to give him specific wording to address those in motorized medically assisted devices, which I did.
The president had done a complete changeabout, and the reason for that was the facts presented by Mike Huntoon: Organizations and agencies had joined forces and were prepared to take the president’s organization to court.
The bottom line in this case is the power of the agencies that are already in place, coming together for one cause. The second most important fact is for those of us who are disabled to speak out when we witness a wrong directed toward us. One voice can become very loud and powerful when it is combined with others who support the same cause.
Don’t remain silent! If nothing else, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will see that the information is passed on.
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Are Safety Concerns Going Too Far?
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