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December 23, 2005 | Read comments | Post a comment

Football games and automatic doors

I've tried and tried to get over my frustration -- maybe even sadness -- at the story I read a few days ago in Dave Reynolds' Inclusion Daily Express email. But the feelings remain.

The story he reports on comes from the Portland Oregonian, and Dave has headlined his story "Student Sells Bracelets To Buy School Automatic Door Opener," which is more informative than the Oregonian's headline, ""Putnam teen draws a bead on opportunity." It also has a completely different flavor.

And that gets at part of my frustration, maybe. The story is about.... well, here are the few paragraphs Dave quoted, and they tell the tale:

Emily Lang has to throw her entire body into pushing open the heavy front doors at Rex Putnam High School, and some students in wheelchairs can't open them at all.

The 18-year-old senior, who has limited use of her arms and hands because of congenital deformities, thinks all students, staff and visitors should have easy access to Putnam through the front door. So Lang is trying to raise $1,700 for an automatic door opener by making and selling bracelets for $2.

Last Wednesday, she zipped around Putnam in a limping jog, setting up two small Christmas trees covered in bracelets to sell during lunch. She played Christmas music and did a little jig after one boy bought seven bracelets. (Read the entire Oregonian article.)

This can be seen as an extraordinary case of pulling oneself up by own's bootstraps, I suppose. Cheer on the determined teen who's solving her own problem through entrepreneurship! And today this kind of story is all the rage. The rest of the story focuses on her "inspirational personality" -- she's been able to "rise above" her disability, one source tells the reporter -- and the fact that the fundraiser is her own personal senior project, which she must do to graduate.

But... but... but...

I am left a bit at a loss: Shouldn't the school take some responsibility? I know, I know -- not legally -- automatic doors are never a legal requirement. (And yet their lack makes so many many places inaccessible! You must sit and wait at the door, like a dog or cat begging to be let in. Nobody, other than crips, seems to see anything wrong with that.) They did install some $100 closers, says the article, which make it easier to open -- if you can pull a door at all. But if she wants an automatic door, it's up to her.

Which gets me onto social obligation, which is where I think I've been headed all along with this piece. I think that is the source of my sadness: that people don't seem to see any kind of social obligation to provide automatic doors. Where is the parents' organization? Maybe the school is poor -- maybe it really can't afford the $1,700 outlay that the article says the doors cost -- but why aren't all the kids involved? Why only her? Yes, it is her senior project, but that in itself speaks volumes. Something she had to take on by herself.

Here's a thought: Let the football players take on the job of raising money to run the football program. Seem absurd? School fund drives for athletic programs are common, but it might be useful for us to ask: How come the players don't shoulder the responsibility for raising money for their program themselves, like Emily is doing for "her" automatic door? "

Apples and oranges? Seems to me it's all a matter of perspective. And expectation. Not to mention what it teaches the other kids about whose responsibility access is.

And while we're at it: If you don't know the wonderful news service that is Inclusion Daily, please wander over to the website and take a look. While you're there, take out a subscription. It's money well spent.

Posted by mjohnson on December 23, 2005 10:49 AM


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