Letters to the editor

Reaching a milestone

This month marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s a civil rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against people based on their disability. The ADA applies to discrimination in employment, state and local government services, privately operated public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

Ridge Area Arc and The Arc of Florida, nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have seen positive changes in these areas since the ADA was signed into law in 1990.

Just a few years before its passage, many Floridians with intellectual and developmental disabilities were institutionalized. Today, many are living and working in their community.

While great strides have been made in our society, discrimination still exists. Attitudes, poor enforcement of the law, underfunded programs and fiscal difficulties in state and local government budgets all contribute to the ongoing need to be vigilant advocates for full inclusion and equality.

There are still issues here in Florida. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case Olmstead v. L.C. that unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities in institutions is a form of discrimination. Despite this, our state continues to house some individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in institutions and children in nursing homes.

We hope our elected leaders will work to fund additional community-based programs, ensuring that all Floridians are treated equally and able to live in the community, where they belong.

Rhonda Beckman, CEO

Ridge Area Arc

Suspicious behavior

I was recently shopping at Walmart in Sebring when approached by a man asking if the child in a wheelchair was mine.

I noticed her basket filled with groceries attached to the wheelchair. I attempted to talk to the little girl, asking where her mom was. She is about 3 years old, a special needs child, unable to give eye contact and no verbal response.

The man seemed concerned to find the mother. I said I would take her to customer service to contact the parent over the intercom. He said no, that he would do that. I was very uncomfortable about the whole situation and followed the man at a distance, as he didn’t seem to be anxious to get the child to customer service.

He stopped at the deli and was talking to a lady there. I waited and eventually as I watched, the two of them went to a checkout.

At first I thought he was cutting through to customer service. I went to the checkout counter to be sure he was reporting the child. Much to my surprise he was removing groceries from the wheelchair basket. I said “What’s going on?” He laughed and said it was a joke.

I was shocked and asked the lady if it was her child. She said yes. I was furious and attempted to confront him of the seriousness of child abductions and using your child as a joke.

He laughed and said “I do this all the time. I knew you were following me.” As I continued to stress the seriousness of his joke, his demeanor changed to nasty.

I was so upset for that child and didn’t think to do what I should have done.

That’s the reason I’m writing this letter. So please, if he approaches you, go along, be sure to follow him and call security first chance you can without him seeing you. He would have a lot of explaining to do. His joke would backfire as his child would be unable to identify him. He needs to be stopped, using a beautiful helpless little girl as a joke. The child will be in my prayers.

Sylvia Schmitt

Avon Park