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Terri Schiavo's Florida: Disability Hospitality
By Rus Cooper-Dowda

The morning rally on Friday, July 25, 2003 began with Terri Schiavo supporters gathering at the Tampa, Florida courthouse. The good news is that we were enthusiastic.

The media support was best with journalists who had family members with disabilities. There was less to explain to them.

They got it without having to have it spelled out that one out of every five people in America has a disability.

They got that if Terri experiences judicial sanctioned homicide then their family members are at high risk of the same.

The later Clearwater rally was marked by honking horns and folks willing to risk rain and even Florida Summer lightning to get the word out.

Then the big news came:

The Second District Court has issued a thirty day stay. To say her family and supporters were heartened by the news is an understatement.

But I really want you to read the below to see just how hard it is for the disabled community to get the most basic respect for their needs in Terri Schiavo's Florida:

Once again the Tampa Courthouse security guards would only allow full-time wheelchair users use of the accessibile entrance!

The door at the top of their wheelchair ramp still remains locked at all times for part-time wheelchair users, the elderly and the obviously arthritic. Those with canes and walkers are not allowed in there either.

Folks with invisible disabilities who just can't do stairs -- but who still insist on getting in to have bowel movements -- are treated like Al-Qaida terrorists.

Here's the clearly stated courthouse rule: If security doesn't see you in a wheelchair all the time, you are too much of a risk to be allowed to pee inside.

So if you only use a wheelchair part-time OR have a walking cane OR just can't do stairs: Then the Courthouse rule is that you can't use the accessible entrance.

I suppose the feeling is that the 9 out of 10 disabled people with invisible disabilities who come to that door must be the Hammas Handicapped.

I was allowed one precious trip to the john -- ONLY after I told the guard I was going to relieve my dangerously full bladder on his spit-shined shoes if he didn't open the door RIGHT NOW.

But even after he let me in, an able-bodied court employee ran up and blocked the door with her body since I wasn't really disabled as I only had a cane and listed very badly.

Finally, I was led PAST the Holy Grail of the ladies room to the top of the stairs for the able-bodied -- at the very front of the building -- to go through the metal detector.

Then I did what I needed to do -- and I couldn't get out!

Had there been a fire I would have fried as the only way out for folks like me is locked all the time from the inside, too.

So to exit I had to return to the front of the building AGAIN and ask a guard to walk with me to the wheelchair entrance so as to unlock that freaking door.

Since there was only one opportunity to threaten national security with my need, I had to leave the entire area immediately. Dehydration to be able to stay out in the sun longer in Florida is dangerous.

Hey --Dehydration and starvation is a danger if you live INSIDE and are disabled in Florida.

Ask Terri and her family about that. That's why we all there protesting in the first place.

How ironic that if Terri was able to use a walker she would not have been able to stay at the protest to save her life. She would not have been able to attend her own hearing in that building last April.

Why people with disabilities and the elderly of the city of Tampa, Florida do not protest about an accessible courthouse entrance that most people with disabilities are not allowed to use is beyond me.

Why Floridians and others with and without disabilities are not rising up to support Terri's right to live in order to protect themselves and their loved ones deeply worries me.

Every time I go to that courthouse on Terri's behalf I get slammed with the fact that I (as another person with disabilities) don't really count either in Florida.

Tourists Beware! Come to see Mickey and get sick or injured? The Sunshine State's vaunted hospitality will quickly turn into Terri's Hospice-tality.

Rus Cooper-Dowda

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