photo: Clint Eastwood
Photo: Tom Olin

Clint Eastwood declares loss a 'win'

By Mary Johnson


Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch resort does violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. That fact emerged out of the sawdust of the media circus that has reported this case since Diane zum Brunnen sued the actor for several access violations last year.

Chad Swiatecki gets crip wake-up call

Sandusky Register gets a prize for Kelly Dillery series

In a decision in October, the jury said that Eastwood must provide a ramp to the registration office, a second accessible guest room and signs about accessible accommodations, correcting violations which media reports characterized as "minor" and which Eastwood insisted were "already in progress." Since he was found guilty of ADA violations, Eastwood will have to pay zum Brunnen's attorney fees, as required by the federal law. Few media outlets reported this, either.

Zum Brunnen attorney Paul L. Rein told Accesslife.com's Gail Hayden that the fact that these changes were "already in the works" was a victory.

Headlines reported that Eastwood had been cleared of having to pay damages under the ADA; in fact, the federal law does not permit plaintiffs to sue for damages. Zum Brunnen had also sued under California's access law, which does allow damages. This fact was typically left out of news reports.

San Francisco Chronicle reporters Maria Alicia Gaura and Alan Gathright, two of the few who seemed to perceive that Eastwood had actually lost his case, noted that the courtroom in which the trial was held was inaccessible. "Wheelchairs must be escorted through an exit door into the courthouse, and both the witness stand and the jury box are not accessible," they wrote.

Crip wake-up call for Chad Swiatecki

Four months into his first assignment at the Flint (Mich.) Journal, rookie reporter Chad Swiatecki got the crip wake-up call. Swiatecki, who uses a wheelchair, found himself shut out of his Sunday job covering a Gore campaign event when both the venue and the press corps van were -- you guessed it -- inaccessible. "This is something new for me, since I've always thought myself akin to Booker T. Washington where it concerns the disability movement, preferring to make as little noise as possible and effect change on a small scale instead of fighting tooth-and-nail for large-scale reform," a newly-incensed Swiatecki wrote about the event in which he'd become the "news": "But now I'm starting to rethink that stance," he wrote.

His story became the story -- featured on the online Drudge Report, beamed to the national WABC radio network and featured in the New York Post. Crip talk show host Greg Smith got Swiatecki "On A Roll."

The reporter got hundreds of email messages with the predictable mix of "right on" and "you're whiner" sentiments. And naturally, the Gore campaign apologized and told news media "policy changes have been made to prevent similar problems." But it's too early to tell whether the incident makes any lasting impression on either the news media, the candidates or Swiatecki himself. Chad Swiatecki can be reached by e-mail at cswiatecki@flintjournal.com

The Sandusky Register wins a prize, after all

Sandusky Register Managing Editor Todd Franko should be grateful to disability activists nationwide. The Register won best in its class in "Enterprise Reporting" from the Associated Press Society of Ohio for its "series of articles on wheelchair user Kelly Dillery and her battles, in and out of court, with the city of Sandusky."

Ragged Edge readers may recall the Register's early coverage of Dillery, who was hauled into court on "child endangerment charges" for driving her wheelchair in the streets with her small daughter on her lap -- because she couldn't navigate the inaccessible sidewalks. Dillery's case drew national attention -- but the Register's role was less than stellar. Until disability activists took the newspaper's management to task, that is.

We reported on both the Register's refusal to see Dillery's situation as the discrimination issue it was (see "Kelly Dillery and The Sandusky Register," March/April, 1999) and to point out the paper's change of heart ("The Sandusky Register finally 'gets it,'" May/June 1999).

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