ADAPT protest

An ADAPT protester getting pulled out of her wheelchair and arrested in Washington D.C.

We will ride! We will ride!


I must have shouted that phrase thousands of times on that summer afternoon, the blazing sun created an intense heat that only magnified the issue at hand. I was part of a group of people with disabilities that were protesting a wrong, in Topeka. At the time, the Greyhound Bus Company had a policy that people with disabilities could not ride the busses unless they had a caregiver who was going to accompany them on their trip. They could not travel alone. This was about choice. And dignity. And autonomy.

It was a few short years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and this policy was blatant discrimination. One of the things that the ADA says is that it is illegal for a business to have a policy that applies to people with disabilities that does not also apply to the general population. To add insult to injury, Greyhound also had a policy that if a person with a disability needed assistance on and off the bus, the fire department would automatically be called to provide whatever help was needed. Several people with disabilities had complained that they felt like they were on display as they got on or off the bus. It was common for transfers to take place in front of numerous other passengers.

Earlier that morning, Bob Mikesic, one of my coworkers at Independence, Inc. asked me if I wanted to go with him and join members of ADAPT in Topeka, who were going to protest this policy outside the Greyhound bus terminal. ADAPT is a grassroots disability rights organization, made up of people with disabilities and their advocates, who protest loudly when they see an injustice. They have been known to be incredibly effective, and equally incredibly radical. So, at first, I hesitated. In my mid 20’s, I was shy and socially awkward, and I spent a significant amount of time with my head down, just trying to follow the rules. In short, back then I was much less of a rebel. But the advocacy I had learned during my employment was starting to sink into my soul. I knew this policy was wrong. I knew that people with disabilities deserved to be treated as equals. And I was learning that some wrongs don’t become “right” until those with rights fight back. It might have been my first act of civil disobedience, 🙂 and if I were being totally honest, the more time that passed that day, the more excited I became.

As soon as we got to Topeka, I could feel the energy in the air. Changes are not made when people are passive, and many people with disabilities from around the state were drawing from the energy of their frustration as they got ready to voice their opinion concerning these Greyhound policies. Armed with a sign that said, “Wheelchairs can only take us so far…” I added my voice to the chanting.

We will ride! We will ride!

At one point we locked arms and formed a huge circle. Sign language interpreters were translating the phrase repeatedly. Some of the protesters bought bus tickets for the same day, just to see what would happen. Some of us talked to the media who had arrived. And others were chanting the whole time…

We will ride! We will ride!

As I got in the car to return home, my voice was hoarse but my heart was full. I laid in bed that night turning over the experience in my mind dozens of times. And as I did so, I realized that something deep within me had shifted. I understood that advocating for what I needed in my life was not only okay but often necessary. Many people in my life were going to try to take my power away from me. Sometimes they would succeed, but I could always do my best to take my power back.

In the last few months, members from ADAPT have protested in cities across the country, in efforts to make the public aware what the GOP health care plans would mean for people with disabilities. Some got arrested and spent a few days in jail. And then they kept going. As much as possible, they explained what they were doing and why it was important to whoever they could get to listen. They made the point that, because disability has an open enrollment policy, Medicare and Medicaid programs were important for everyone.

I have spent more time than I usually do, during this administration, calling senators and representatives and telling them my story. I want them to know what various policies and plans will mean for my life as a woman with a disability who wants to remain in the community for many years to come. There are so many others like me.

In many ways, I am still that shy and socially awkward girl who spends a whole lot of time with my head down, just trying to follow the rules.

But when it is necessary, I ADAPT.