The Sandusky Register finally 'gets it'
by Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is editor of Ragged Edge.
"The Kelly Dillery case was about the Americans with Disabilities Act," said the Sandusky Register in a March 14 editorial. "City officials won't say that, and have repeated such a belief much like a politician's spin team. Perhaps they can't, for legal reasons. Or perhaps they're a bit naive," the editorial continued. But "to say the Dillery case wasn't about ADA would be to say the "Godfather" is about family interaction."
Was this the same Sandusky Register that Ragged Edge had so much fun criticizing in our last issue (See "Kelly Dillery and The Sandusky Register," March/April)?.
"Nearly six months after the first story about Dillery in the streets of Sandusky, the Register has still not reported the responses of Sandusky's law director or city prosecutor or other city officials to activists' charges that the city is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act," we wrote in our March/April issue. "It is not even clear that the Sandusky Register has raised the issue of the violation of federal laws with officials."
A week after the March/April Ragged Edge came out, Sandusky Register coverage of the Kelly Dillery Affair began to change.
A Feb. 20 story by Sandusky Register Staff Writer Brad Dicken reported that the city was in violation of the ADA -- that it had on file neither a self-evaluation nor a transition plan.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, Register Managing Editor Todd Franko weighed in: "Kelly has been easy to point the finger at," he wrote. "But the finger should be pointed at us, too." .
Whatever happened? .
"The Sandusky Register has received roughly 400 e-mails about Kelly Dillery in the last three months," Franko wrote. As Ragged Edge reported, the majority of those e-mails told the Register that the real problem was Sandusky's violation of the ADA. The Register, it seems, finally listened. "Is the bigger issue accessibility?" it asked.
Why did it take them so long to figure that out? Franko's response reminds us of the damage done by anti-ADA forces who have taken every opportunity to paint the law as a whiner's delight with no real value for society. (Jonathan Rauch's screed in the National Journal, William Raspberry's snit in the Washington Post and Reader's Digest's ongoing histrionics about the law are just a few of those we've detailed in previous Media Edge columns).
"It's tough for folks without disabilities to always appreciate [the] ADA," Franko wrote. "We live in a world increasingly littered with whiners." Everyone claimed "minority status" nowadays, he continued; everyone wanted something and "we're all tiring of the whining." It seemed clear the ADA hatemongers' propaganda had influenced Franko.
It was an influence it took activists an incredible battle to dislodge. But dislodge it they did. As the e-mails continued to pour in, Franko finally began to "get it": the ADA was not designed "to get more" rights than other people, but to get 'equal' rights," he wrote.
Until then, Sandusky Register management had bought the line that the ADA was an intrusive law that protected whiners. But when Franko began to see that the ADA was really about -- yes -- equality, the paper began to change its tune -- and its coverage.
Still, ADA compliance in Sandusky was "not an easy thing to investigate," Franko wrote. It took reporters three weeks of work to produce that first story on Feb. 20 in which Brad Dicken reported that Sandusky was "violating federal (and its own) laws" with the lack of basic access. But once it had taken on the task, the paper pursued the issue. A story just days before the jury trial in which Dillery was acquitted (see D. R. Nation, p. 7), Dillery attorney K. Ronald Bailey told reporter Michael Brice there'd be a civil suit against the city for ADA violations. (At Ragged Edge press time, that suit has not yet been filed.) A few days later, Dicken took a look at what kinds of things were required under the ADA, and the local buildings not in compliance. A March 13 story reported on city plans to conduct a self-evaluation in anticipation of the suit and a March 26 story reported a self evaluation had been found "shoved in a file" in City Hall; the documents might never have been found had it not been for the Dillery case, the paper reported.
As his paper began to cover the larger issue of ADA access violations, e-mails to Franko began to praise the paper. He seemed pleased -- and committed to better coverage: "We can do better and we need to do better," he wrote.
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