DISABILITIES WEEK 89
By Daniel J. Vance
"This Supreme Court ruling wasn't about Beverly Jones; it was about 54 million Americans," Beverly Jones, 40, of Nashville, Tennessee, said recently over the telephone. "It means equal access to the justice system for 54 million Americans with disabilities."
Jones was speaking of the May 17, 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling favoring her and others who had claimed the State of Tennessee wasn't enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
Title II of ADA law says: "…no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."
A spinal cord injury survivor and wheelchair user, Jones works as a certified court reporter. For years she had to be carried up and down county courthouse steps. Since she and others filed suit in 1998 many Tennessee counties to their credit have made courthouses accessible without State intervention. With this ruling, however, the State has to enforce compliance to federal law and counties must provide accessibility upgrades.
She said, "While carried in my wheelchair I've experienced feelings of embarrassment and helplessness. I've feared for my safety, knowing I could be seriously physically hurt if dropped. Most courthouses have several flights of stairs. We had to maneuver around landings. Often, four people were involved: myself, a person holding my chair behind, one in front, and another telling the person walking backwards where to step."
The State of Tennessee saw this as a states' rights issue, believing the federal government lacked power to force compliance.
Said Jones of one Justice's opinion: "He actually believed that a wheelchair user could be construed as having equal access to a facility simply by being offered assistance to be carried up steps."
Jones is rocking her world in other ways. In 2000, L’eggs Hosiery recognized her as one of five “Women Who Shape our World.” In 1997 she was Easter Seals' National Adult Representative and now serves on its Board of Directors.
As for Easter Seals: "I strongly believe every person with a disability and/or their family should be involved with a group like Easter Seals because it is a place to find answers, locate resources and connect with people sharing similar experiences while offering hope along the way."