I have kept in touch with a friend of mine who moved to Florida after her children were born. Our last conversation was so disheartening that I promised her I would write about this subject. Something has to be done to help handicapped people lead more productive lives.
My friend was blessed with twins back in the 1970s. They were born on an Army base where she and her husband had been stationed. But the delivery did not go smoothly, and she had two daughters who were diagnosed with cerebral palsy early on.
Not long after their birth, my friend became a single mom with two handicapped children.
She tells me that what they are lacking physically, they made up for in brain power. They are brilliant girls, but have no body function from the waist down.
Most of us can only imagine the uphill battles and stress that they have gone through over the years, from schooling to housing to funding to just getting through each day.
I will now fast-forward 25 years. The girls are in their late 20s and have had a wonderful education and upbringing thanks to my friend, who has devoted her entire life to their well being.
The girls live independently and have earned master's degrees in their fields. Their biggest obstacle now is housing and transportation.
Although they qualify for several jobs, they are unable to accept many opportunities because they cannot obtain housing. They are struggling to lead independent lives, but cannot find suitable handicapped-accessible apartments or condos that are equipped to enable handicapped people to live on their own.
Doorways are inaccessible because they are too narrow, counter tops are too high for a person sitting in a wheelchair, and sinks and bathtubs are too high. The list is never-ending.
Builders are not required to make even one apartment unit handicapped-equipped, so even if the girls find a job, they are unable to accept it after searching for a place to live.
There needs to be more legislation to produce different standards to help all handicapped people live independent, productive and full lives. There are enough obstacles to finding employment and job opportunities for all people; imagine what handicapped people have to go through.
In the last several years, it became mandatory to make door openings wider to accommodate wheelchairs, but oftentimes things like sinks and bathtubs are not low enough to accommodate a wheelchair. It may seem like a simple thing to most of us, but think about someone in a wheelchair who can't even reach the sink to wash her hands.
Closets are also made for the upright person. Clothing poles are set at arm's reach, along with light switches and door knobs.
We all want to lead independent, productive lives. People with handicaps are no exception.
My heart goes out to these girls, who have worked so hard and tried for so long to be independent. They have hurdled over many obstacles and are to be commended for their perseverance and positive attitude.
I also commend my friend, who has been their advocate for so long. Not everyone is fortunate to have a mother who will stop at nothing to take care of her children.