through advocacy you may discover
You can fight City Hall. — Ed Eames
Growing up in the Bronx in the 1930s, the thought of trying to influence the political process was as far from my mind as putting a man on the moon.
After going blind and moving to California 15 years ago, I plunged into the disability rights movement, organizing a cross-disability advocacy group in Fresno.
First priority was to guarantee access to the front doors of the new municipal building for folks with limited hand strength and motion. Then we tackled the issue of safe passage across railroad tracks throughout the community. That took two years of negotiating with the city and Santa Fe Railroad management.
Now we are working on the installation of curb cuts and audible traffic signals, increased time to cross at lights, and better fixed route and paratransit service. The tragic death of advocate Elias Gutierrez, struck by a car because the lack of curb cuts forced him into the street — has given more weight to our concerns within the corridors of City Hall. The city has now allocated more money for curb cuts, and other positive changes are in the works.
Our work proves that you can fight, and even influence, City Hall.
You don’t have to be a victim. — Toni Eames
People who know me now can hardly believe I was a shy child. Not until training with my first guide dog at the age of 22 did I assume the role of advocate. Rather than my usual pattern of crying and withdrawing into victimhood, when I heard those dreaded words, “You can’t bring that dog in here,” I stood up to the Hunter College adminstration.
With no 504 or ADA to fall back on, I was forced to become extremely assertive if I wanted my guide dog to remain with me. Skills developed in winning my initial battle were honed in the ensuing 35 years of guide dog partnership. I have faced denial of access from taxi drivers, hotel managers, airline clerks, ticket takers and many unenlightened others. With considerable pride I can claim that attempts to keep us out were rarely successful. Realizing the need for a larger advocacy movement on the subject, in 1993 I helped found the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Now, eight years later, with a member-ship of more than one thousand, IAADP teaches people with disabilities partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs that they do not have to be victims. Advocacy did that for me.
IAADP membership benefits now include veterinary cost assistance. Information on and forms for joining IAADP can be found at www.iaadp.org or by calling 586-826-3938.
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