George H. W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on September 9, 2000. I didn’t let on how hard it was to push the wheelchair up the hill because I didn’t want to make her feel guilty. It was a hot, humid day and the few patches of shade gave little relief. We were both soaked with sweat.
As committee co-chairs, we were scouting locations for an all-day conference for 250 people. One of our top priorities was accessibility.
My co-chair contracted polio when she was a baby and had used crutches and leg braces her whole life. In familiar environments, the braces and crutches did the job. In the unfamiliar environment we were about to enter, she wanted to take her wheelchair.
After a phone interview with the facilities manager of a local campus, we decided to take a look. I picked her up at her house, where she was waiting for me, sitting in her wheelchair. The crutches were in her lap. She also had the foot pieces for the chair, detached, for easy loading. The sun bore down as I cheerily opened my trunk to deposit the chair.
She wheeled out to the car and, after I handed her the crutches, she stood up, locked her braces and balanced herself. As she told me how to collapse the chair, she said it weighed only 32 pounds. I took a deep breath, lowered down so I could lift with my legs, not my back, and hoisted the unwieldy mass of metal into my trunk.
When we arrived at the campus, the process was repeated in reverse. Trunk opened, wheelchair hoisted, foot pieces placed, crutches in trunk, braces released, cushion placed, co-chair in her chair. She held my briefcase and I pushed the wheelchair over asphalt, a surface I had never thought much about until I encountered it in this fashion. Walking over it is easy, rolling over it is difficult.
When we got to the entrance of the administration office, a custodian opened the door for us. I rolled over one of those rubber mats that are great for removing water from shoes, but stop a wheelchair cold. I persevered and got us over that hurdle, only to encounter a thick carpet. I pushed harder.
The next hour included a harrowing trip up a ramp and through the kitchen to the dining room to talk to the caterer about lunch. We rolled into the bathroom and discovered it didn’t have any stalls to accommodate wheelchairs. The classrooms were accessible only by stairs. When I went to view them, I had to park my co-chair under a tree while I checked them out.
Because so many other things about the location were right for the conference, we decided to book it. The coordinator was a congenial fellow, so we had a discussion with him about accessibility and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), now celebrating its 10th anniversary. He said he’d talk to the administration about the bathrooms.
We were thoroughly soaked with perspiration as we left the campus. I put the chair back in the trunk, retrieved the crutches and got us both back in the car, then cranked up the air conditioner and cooled us on the way home.
I dropped her off, gratefully unloaded the wheelchair and left her heading toward the front door. I returned to my able-bodied life, free from barriers and frustration. My co-chair remained in her cumbersome world, working harder just to get through the day, perhaps wondering “why.”
I can hear, see, feel, walk, and run pretty fast, if I have to. After spending those few hours with a disabled person I realized how utterly oblivious most of us are to our faculties, until they are lost. The ADA caused controversy when it was passed a decade ago. These days the sight of a ramp in front of a building or a huge stall at the back of the restroom are commonplace.
The able-bodied barely notice, but the disabled can now go to places they never dreamed of going before. They can catch a bus, see a play and land a job for which they are supremely qualified, with a little assistance. “ADA compliant” is not just a phrase, it is a reality we all can live with.
The four levels of Girl Scouts: Daisy, Brownie, Cadette, Senior.
This piece was published in the Los Angles Daily News on March 5, 1998.
Nine out of ten people, when asked, will buy Girl Scout cookies. Why? It’s not just because Thin Mints are delicious, Trefoils are a tradition, or Tag-a-Longs have peanut butter. That’s part of it, but not all. People buy Girl Scout cookies because a Girl Scout is selling them.
The small salesperson you see in front of the grocery store is a well-trained member of a team who is working to meet her personal goal as well as her troop’s goal for the amount of boxes sold. She knows her product and has a pretty good idea of which cookie will sell the most – Thin Mints, of course. She has been drilled on safety, salesmanship and courtesy.
The Girl Scouts who are selling cookies this year represent an organization that, from its very inception, was dedicated to teaching girls leadership, good citizenship and a strong sense of self. Girls today are learning those lessons well and will take them into the next century.
The pint-sized salesperson you buy cookies from today could be selling you a computer or a car tomorrow. She is learning selling skills within the context of the Girl Scout Law. Two important parts of the law include being “honest and fair” and “responsible for what I say and do.”
Most people associate cookie-selling Girl Scouts with Brownies or Junior Girl Scouts, ages six through eleven. However, the top salesperson last year, for Mount Wilson Vista Council in the San Gabriel Valley, was a Senior Girl Scout, age sixteen. She sold 1,777 boxes and is hoping to sell more this year.
An active Girl Scout, she recently participated in a local talent contest. As part of the pageant, she was asked to wear clothing that demonstrated one of her interests. Encouraged to wear her swim suit, to represent her membership in a swim team, she chose instead to wear her Girl Scout uniform.
A girl who stays in Girl Scouts past elementary school can take advantage of opportunities to travel and learn leadership skills, and will benefit immensely from working in partnership with her leader, a woman who often becomes her mentor. For example, a troop that visited a Girl Scout center in Cuernavaca, Mexico, became friends with a troop they met there from Canada. The girls went back home, raised the funds needed to travel to Canada and visited their friends in Vancouver the following summer. All this took the effort of dedicated adult leaders.
Whether a six-year-old or a sixteen-year-old asks people to buy Girl Scout cookies, she will know the satisfaction of success or the disappointment of rejection. A Brownie may want to sell one box, a Senior may want to sell 1,000. Nonetheless, all Girl Scouts are learning important lessons from the annual cookie sale.
Most people become aware of Girl Scouts every year during cookie time, but girls meet with their leaders throughout the year, working on community service projects, going camping or traveling. After the cookie sale is over, the girls will determine what they will do with their cookie profits. They may buy supplies for the troop, take a trip or provide community service.
Girl Scouts continue to find joy in singing, treat the American flag with respect, go camping and have lots of fun. The sound of a Brownie Girl Scout troop reciting the Girl Scout Promise, clear and strong, can still bring tears to the eyes of their leaders. For 85 years it has been that way.
If a Girl Scout asks you to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, consider the value of what you are about to buy. Consider the lesson you teach. Consider the fine tradition you support, and . . . enjoy every delicious bite.
Visiting Mom at Assisted Living with my sister, Anne.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on April 11, 2004.
My friend and I exchanged elderly parent horror stories over lunch last week. Like a couple of fishermen, we told tall tales. Your mom is crazy, but mine is crazier. My mom is more out-of-it than your mom. My mom wears me out more than yours wears you out. We sparred like a couple of prizefighters.
It was an even match – until she topped me with her story about the beating. Her mother, a resident in a board-and-care facility, told her horrified daughter, “they took my clothes off . . . and they beat me.”
“What?” I replied in horror.
My friend has a well-honed sense of humor and responded with perfect comic timing, “they gave her a sponge bath.”
We both burst out in laughter and enjoyed our moment of recognition and caregiver sisterhood. The hazing ritual for this sorority comes late at night, sitting in an emergency room next to your mom’s bed, trying to shut your eyes against the garish fluorescent light that emits a loud buzzing sound, jarring both the ears and the eyes.
Those of us who enter the caregiver sisterhood can laugh about our dilemma because we know we have come full circle. We understand that mom isn’t the person she used to be and can’t play her role anymore. Sometimes our siblings don’t get it and turn away from mom and her dependency. Those of us who stick with it can grow in ways we never imagined.
As my friend and I bantered back and forth and told our tales of woe, a common thread ran through the conversation. We had become the parent our parent needed. We talked to doctors who specialized in hearts, lungs, and the brain. They look at their specialty and give their professional opinion. We look at Mom and wonder what to do.
Parents raise their children and most do their very best. At the end of their lives, sick and feeble, parents find out who their friends are. It may or may not be their children.
My mother is confined to bed in a board-and-care home, tended to by a loving and professional staff. I visit often, and each time we say good-by I know it could be for the last time.
In this uncharted territory for parent and adult child there is a very thin line between sadness and humor. Laughter at the absurdity of life is the quintessential best medicine. Both my friend and I are blessed with moms who look for the humor in the midst of sorrow and loss and we often find ourselves laughing through tears.
A woman who is caring for her Alzheimer’s afflicted father told me recently that when she runs out of patience she sits down, takes a deep breath and digs deeper into her reserves for even more. She finds character building a challenging process. Reflecting on blessings is hard to do in the midst of exhaustion and exasperation.
This could be the first generation that cares for their parents for as long as their parents spent raising them. My sister and I have been caring for our mother for a full decade –through surgeries, emergency hospitalizations, cancer, heart troubles, cataracts, strokes, rehab and more. My father has been dead for almost four years, after two long years of illness.
As I reflect on his last years, I think of the clam with the tiny grain of sand that works its way under his shell and irritates it until the clam miraculously creates a pearl. When I think of Dad now, I rarely recall the frustration and pain but consider his memory to be a string of pearls.