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  drawing of playground swing and slide The Laguna Honda fight amid fears of terrorism
Holy Ground

by Rus Cooper-Dowda

Rus Cooper-Dowda is a minister and freelance writer in Tampa.

"...We stand on holy ground, between the day that was and the one that must be...." -- Chaim Stern

Last weekend my family visited a new upscale mall that had opened in our area. We were curious as to what all the media fanfare was about. After perusing the bookstores, we decided it was mostly that local coffee cost $3.00 more a cup there.

Read about the Laguna Honda protest

As the rest of my family checked out the rest of the shops, I discovered real holy ground. In the center of the child-oriented stores was an area with built-in sea creatures to play in, on and beneath. Best of all, there was this wonderful pile of kids all over.

Except for kids with disabilities.

Not a single structure was accessible.

None of the art or the signage had alternative formats. Even the way the rules were written could be interpreted as saying "NO Wheelchairs!" The sign that said, "No one over this height" did not take into account a sitting child in a high wheelchair.

The combined color of the children's clothes made them look like a collective community bouquet. I wanted my community's crip kids to be part of that arrangement. I was so disappointed.

I thought about this tiny able-bodied crowd and the Laguna Honda nursing home.

At this shiny new mall in Tampa, Florida, neither the parents nor their children had a clue about the winds of change generating from the protest against rebuilding that nursing home. No one seemed to notice the absence of crip kids but me. No one noticed me, the only adult near by with a visible disability.


Yes, there are good things in lives of the children I was watching. Besides the coming rites of passage, they are growing up in a world where women have always played professional sports; where there has always been a national celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday; where the Russias and the Chinese are not referred to as "The Reds"; where macho football players pride themselves on being with their families -- and pagans have always gotten a turn at opening prayer for local government meetings.

And this is as it should be.

But while some shiver over the threat of biological terrorism, large numbers of people with disabilities ache to be out in their community where they could also be dealing with the same threat.

President Lincoln insisted the construction of the Capitol dome be continued during the War between the States. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt strongly backed the continuity of everyday life during World War II.

The Roosevelts also strongly backed the American tradition of civil liberties at home while the fight raged elsewhere.


That is why the fight to keep people out of institutions is expanding and gaining prominence while we search for terrorists internationally. People with disabilities who are unnecessarily institutionalized are being held against their wills for money.

Is this not a hostage situation that needs to be addressed, too?

Those kids on the mall -- leg-impaired mermen -- need to grow up knowing that part of what we are protecting for them is their right to stay in their communities after they meet up with disability themselves. A lot of folks right now simply do not understand this. Yet a great many people are working toward that change.

When the 10 percent of these kids become disabled in later life -- as statistics say they will -- it is to everyone's advantage that they stay in their communities, in their homes, where they are already blooming.

The fight over rebuilding the Laguna Honda nursing home in the San Francisco Bay Area is about exactly that. A large group of people who are not even disabled yet are being helped by the nursing home protests they are reading about this week. Those who do not support such protest would do well to remember the words of Frederick Douglass: "Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground."

There's that holy ground again.

We have the resources to keep both those rowdy kids and already disabled people on their community turf. We can even save money at the same time. There really is more to be done than simply sending bucks to New York City.

If we are after common ground, the tiled floors of a newly expanded Laguna Honda ain't it. All children should be growing up with the assumption that it is absurd to have the able-bodied community living on all surfaces, and disabled people living on institutional linoleum.

Or, to put it another way: Concrete from the day that was to park grass on the day that will be.

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