DRM’s ADA Coalition is a cross-disability group of allies dedicated to fulfilling the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act in Maine. The coalition meets bi-monthly to identify and address ADA issues in the community, and to foster awareness of accessibility requirements and rights. The coalition advocates for policies and initiatives that promote Mainers’ full and equal access to businesses, employment, voting, or any other aspect of community life.
Sally Walsh, a member of the board of directors at Disability Rights Maine, has a commitment to disability rights activism rooted in her personal experience. After breaking her leg and having to temporarily navigate her town while facing real limits on her mobility, she gained insight into just how much her community, and others, have failed to live up to the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She knew she wanted to get involved as a citizen activist and do something about it.
DRM: How did you get involved in your activism?
Sally: I just had a broken leg to deal with, but I learned a lot about society, and how people take things for granted. I think businesses and shops and the general public – people without disabilities – take for granted that people can easily get around. And at the same time, people with mobility limitations take for granted that it is going to be hard getting around most places! A lot of people have gotten the message, intended or not, that they aren’t really welcome in many places.
It’s frustrating to see how much we have left to do to make our businesses and community places welcoming. When you think about how many people – of all ages – are impacted by disability, and a state like Maine with so many older people in it, it’s amazing that we haven’t done better than this. When the ADA talks about equal access, it means equal access!
DRM: What form has your activism on disability rights taken?
Sally: I am one of the founders of the accessibility task force in my town of Freeport. The task force is a citizen group of like-minded people who have gotten together to raise awareness about disability issues – mainly around physical access, parking, the importance of signage to people with disabilities, the kinds of things that make a community liveable.
We have done a lot of public awareness work. We’ve done evaluations of the retail district in town. Gil Broberg and I did a “walking” tour of the town – Gil uses a scooter to get around – and we identified a lot of problems with access and barriers. We’ve seen merchants and the town make some important changes, and we’ve gotten people talking about the basics of accessibility, but there is an awful lot left to do.
I also joined the board of directors of Disability Rights Maine, and have become a member of DRM’s ADA Coalition, which is a small but dedicated group of allies committed to ADA issues across settings. One of our members is from Alpha One, Maine’s independent living center. Jill is an architect and expert on accessibility. Other activist groups represented include folks from the Maine Parent Federation, advocating for the rights of families and kids, folks from the American Council of the Blind, the Consumer Council System, which is a voice for people with mental health disabilities, and others. We’re always looking for more voices at the table, particularly now when the ADA seems under attack so often. The ADA is a civil rights act, and like with all civil rights, we need to fight to make them a reality and not just words.
My goal for the coalition is to broaden the network, to bring more power to the group, and to make change happen. We share information, brainstorm about ways to improve access, and ways to connect with the larger public and other potential allies. I want us to be about getting things done. There’s nothing I hate more than talk without action!
DRM: What’s your focus right now?
Sally: There is an ADA bill (H.R. 620) before the U.S. Congress right now. This legislation is sold as an ADA reform, but it really is just a big rollback of the rights we worked so hard to protect. The bottom line is that it makes it harder and will take longer to enforce your access rights. The ADA coalition is reaching out to educate the public and our elected officials about the harm this does. We need to be strengthening ADA enforcement, not weakening it. I encourage everyone to read and share the Bazelon Center’s fact sheet on this bill, and get involved to protect ADA rights!
Interested in getting involved on access issues or learning more about DRM's ADA Coalition? Contact Riley Albair at Disability Rights Maine at firstname.lastname@example.org.