Confronting prejudice, a high school incident with lack of accessible transportation


The transportation part of it was not so good, because you would sometimes be waiting there for two hours, and the vehicle wouldn't come and you'd be calling. That was less than thrilling. Graduating, that was fine. Looking for a job was not so fine. This is pre any laws that protected people with disabilities in our city or in our state. It was an eye-opening experience, because you're basically raised with this idea we're all equal, and democracy, and everybody gets--if you work hard, and you have the skills and abilities, then you get the job. I mean, I knew certainly there was racism, because the civil rights movement was really flourishing then, through the sixties and all. I still believed as long as I had the skills that was the other reason too for wanting to go to college I knew I needed an edge. The disability was going to be a reality that some people were going to have difficulties with. I just didn't know how difficult their difficulties would be.


When did you become aware of that?


Growing up--it's funny because it's different from Judy's [Heumann] experience. Judy went to Camp Gened. That has certain advantages. You know how there are mountain people and there are shore people? We were shore people. I had an aunt who had a house in Sag Harbor, so we went out to my aunt's house. My father had two weeks vacation. We all went out for two weeks to the country, and we went swimming and all.

I never wanted to go to disabled camp. I always felt like I want to be with people I know. Not just that I'm disabled, and I go to this special camp. It never appealed to me. I kind of felt like I should be able to go with whomever I want to go. The advantage, though, of Judy's experience as opposed to mine is that you got to do maybe in some ways more things, because they made things accessible, in a constrained environment, but you got to do more activities than maybe I would have done. We went clamming. We went fishing. We went swimming. That kind of stuff. But you had to be carried because things weren't accessible. I knew there were times when I would be left out of some things, because, like for example--my mother didn't drive, so if you wanted to go to the beach, you had to walk to the beach. It was too long a walk to do it in a wheelchair, except for this local little beach, which we didn't like as much. It was more

of a clamming beach. There would be things like that that you would know you would be left out of certain things.

But, when I went to high school, I felt it was unfair that the transportation didn't allow me to do the extracurricular activities that I might have chosen if I had more choices. One time, the bus operators went on strike, well, they were doing slowdowns, and we had been kept waiting for hours this one time. I just felt it was really unfair that we, who didn't have choices--like we couldn't just say, "I'll go take the bus home." So when the bus came, I remember Mr. Greenberg was waiting, and I said, "I'm not going. They kept us waiting; they can wait for me." [laughter] He said, "Denise, please, you have to go to the bus." So he went to pull my wheelchair, and I had my braces, so I locked my knees and I just stood up and I said, "I'm not going," and he says--