One Video Changed it All
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Politics and Activism

One Video Changed It All

The harsh reality in this New England town forced a young disabled woman to plead for an accessible bathroom at the local beach.

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Aspetuck News

For most people, finding a bathroom available to use is a non-issue. It crosses your mind as much as breathing or blinking would. But when you're restricted to using a handicap accessible bathroom, it can be a fight to use the bathroom.

In the coastal town of Westport, Connecticut, the populus was divided by the town's proposal to build a set of accessible bathrooms on the southern tip of the local beach. The proposal, after tenuous consulting with multiple experts, was made public and outrage ensued.

The debate became so contentious amongst residents, so the human resources department reached out to a Westport mother in hopes she and her daughter could help sway the representatives to vote to pass the proposal.

That mother was mine.

Living anywhere while disabled, especially as a wheelchair user like myself, any simple outside the walls of my fully adapted house can prove to be difficult, if not outright impossible. Louis Mall, one of the town's representatives, recognized this and uses his political platform to advocate for change.

"The RTM voted several years ago [in 2013] to make Westport more accessible for people with special needs," Mall said, adding these bathrooms would be a great improvement to accessibility in the town.

However, even the endorsement from a town representative wasn't enough to assuage the town.

"Flushing money down the toilet," Bart C. Shuldman, a voice of the opposition, said in a Facebook comment.

Facetious comments by fellow residents are what drove my mom and myself to take action. Before this situation, she admittedly was inactive in her local government.

"Until there were these Facebook sites, I didn't really know about [local issues]," Jessica Purcell, or Mom as I call her, said. "I guess I didn't really pay attention."

It was when we realized this great improvement to accessibility could be taken away from us, we decided it was time to speak up. Purcell took to her most comfortable medium of writing a thoughtful email, while I decided to take a different approach.

It dawned on me if I could have them see my face and hear my voice, it would be much harder to dispel my pleas with a dismissive wave of the hand.

One day after school, I quickly settled onto my couch and opened my laptop, proceeding to record seven minutes of cries to move forward with construction.

The privilege my able-bodied neighbors cease to acknowledge is when you can walk with ease, you are guaranteed to be able to leave the house without worrying about if there will be a bathroom close by or if you will have yet another close call of almost wetting yourself because it took you five minutes to reach the nearest accessible bathroom.

For this reason alone this project is worth every penny.

The precise amount of money needed for the project is 840,000 dollars, however, this budget would cover the construction and maintenance of the bathrooms for 20 years. The implicated burden on each Westport household was calculated to be at most six dollars a year.

Despite the copious amount of data and reasoning provided to the public, a fierce opposition took to protesting.

"I truthfully believed expected the project to be voted down because of the cost," Jessica Bram, a town representative, admitted.

The sheer unbridled joy that filled me when I received word the proposal was approved during the wee hours of the morning at a 26-8 vote is the sad reality for people who live in a world built to exclude them.

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