How I Became an Advocate for Inclusion and Accessibility

By Leslie Farin, Publisher, 50PlusToday Online Magazine

Iam on a personal mission to help build a world that’s equally accessible for all. You may wonder why since I do not have a physical disability myself.

Here’s my “why.” My mother, who lived an extraordinarily active and healthy life for most of her years, suddenly found herself reliant on a wheelchair for mobility at age 75. While driving one day, she experienced a mini stroke, lost control of her car, and hit a large stone wall head on. Fortunately she survived, but her recovery required months in the hospital followed by years of rehabilitation.

Advocates for disability and accessibility

Mom’s “new normal” included constant pain. In addition, some of her medications had undesirable side effects, and she no longer had full control over some of her bodily functions. Even so, she remained a vibrant and positive person. She continued to do whatever she could on her own, accepted her limitations and even learned to graciously accept help when she needed it. Her life was exponentially more difficult now than ever before, but she did not let her disability stop her from enjoying life.


Why isn’t the world more accessible?

It seemed I had a more difficult time accepting the situation than Mom did. Prior to her accident, I didn’t notice that many buildings have steps, but no ramp. It didn’t occur to me that if I used a “handicapped” bathroom stall, someone who really needed it may actually be unable to relieve themselves. All I knew is that it was roomier and more comfortable for me.

And I used to think that hotels claiming to be “accessible” consciously make thoughtful accommodations, but I learned the hard way that often this is not the case. A grab bar over the tub, if that is the only accommodation, hardly counts as an accessible environment. The list goes on and on. It was only after Mom’s accident that I realized that wheelchair users cannot easily participate in life the same way others can and that people, including myself, need to be less self-centered if things are to change. Things are getting better, but as a society we still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field.

Lew Shomer with Attendee at Abilities Expo

Why do people make negative assumptions about people with disabilities?

What bothered me most was the way people treated Mom when she was out and about. Strangers no longer looked her in the eye; they looked over her head. If one of us happened to be nearby, they sometimes spoke to us…about her…as if she was invisible.

Occasionally someone talked to her directly, but spoke loudly and slowly as though she had a hearing impairment or possible dementia. In truth, mom was sharper at her advanced age than most people 30 years younger.

There was nothing wrong with her brain and she was not deaf. She was the same person as always other than she could no longer walk.

Senior attendee at Abilities Expo

Challenging the negative disability stereotypes

Sadly, my mom passed away three years ago at age 83. As one of her caregivers, I learned a lot during the eight years she used a wheelchair. These days, I spend a good amount of time advocating for disability rights on a regular basis.

As the Publisher of 50PlusToday, an online magazine geared to older adults, I have a platform where I can educate people about all aspects of aging, including accessibility. I am passionate about helping people live their best lives as long as possible, as safely as possible. I also work enlighten the general population about ways to be more inclusive. Below are some of my favorite articles from the 50PlusToday magazine related to accessibility:

According to the latest US Census data, approximately 20 percent of the American population lives with some sort of disability. About 10 percent have a visible physical disability or some sort of mobility impairment and more than 3 million individuals in the U.S. use a wheelchair full-time. These are not small numbers! To effect real change, it’s essential that we can each do our small part to help make the world a better place for people who need a little extra help.

Leslie's mom smiling

I challenge you to start today. When you next encounter a person in a wheelchair, stop and say hello. No need to even offer to help or comment on their situation; simply make eye contact and greet them as a regular person. Because they are a regular person. It will take less than a minute of your time to acknowledge them, and may possibly make their day.


About the Author:

Leslie FarinLeslie Farin, M.P.H., Publisher and Founder of 50PlusToday Online Magazine, is an experienced communications and marketing professional with a passion for working with individuals age 50+ and their families. She has a particular interest in accessibility and works with Abilities Expo as an ambassador. In addition to working to educate the world about accommodations and inclusive behavior, she also designed and built a mostly accessible rental home, available through Airbnb, as part of her effort to help create a world with equal access for all.

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