Averie Mitchell, was told she was not allowed to ride down a water slide because of her prosthetic.

Courtesy Kimberly Mitchell

Courtesy Kimberly Mitchell









After a heartbroken Averie Mitchell was denied a trip down their water slide while wearing her prosthetic leg, one Oklahoma amusement park is vying to change their company policy.

“After talking to the general manager they have not completed their new policy yet, but no one will have to take off their prosthetic, as long as they cover the metal,” Kimberly Mitchell of Hugo, Oklahoma told ABC News. “We were still upset at the fact of how it was handled, but we decided that the awareness needed to be out there.

“These kids, and vets, and anybody with a prosthetic leg can do anything a person with two good legs can do.”

Mitchell said although her daughter Averie, 8, has been living with a prosthetic most of her life, it never lets it slow her down.

“She was born with a condition called pseudarthrosis of the tibia,” Mitchell said. “At age two, we opted for amputation, so that she could grow up with a prosthetic. It’s below the knee, so she still has her knee joint. She rock climbs, plays football, fishes, rides four-wheelers, gymnastics, circus camp — you name it, she’s tried it.”

Mitchell said it was July 18 when she and her husband John decided to take Averie to Frontier City amusement park in Oklahoma City, where she rode several rides before visiting the water slides.

“We had been there before and she wanted to enjoy the water park,” she said. “We went up the stairs to the tall slide and the attendant stepped in front and said ‘You can’t go down.'”

Assuming the park was performing routine maintenance, Mitchell said she made her way back down the slide with Averie.

Until, she said, she witnessed another child sliding down the slide.

“I said ‘Why can he go down and she can’t?,'” Mitchell said. “When I talked to the lead attendant she said, ‘Those [prosthetics] and casts may scratch our slide.’

“My first response was anger and I was very upset, but Averie thought she had done something wrong,” she added. “She was crying, so I knew at that point that I needed to keep my calm, take care of her, then get the situation figured out.”

Mitchell said Frontier City’s manager told her and her husband that Averie’s prosthetics posed a safety issue, as they could scratch their slides, causing danger for other park-goers who slid down after her.

“They gave us the option that she could take her leg off and go back, which we didn’t agree with at all,” Mitchell added. “Then we just left the park.”

When the Mitchell’s expressed their disappointment with the manager, he offered the family a refund for their admission to the park.

The following day, Mitchell said, she received the full $107 dollars for all three tickets.

Shortly after, the park sent her a preliminary change to their ride policy, as Mitchell said they had promised.

“Frontier City is amending and clarifying company policy regarding guests wearing prosthetic devices and their access to water slides,” the park said in a statement. “Guest safety is the priority in every situation, and the company follows ride manufacturer’s suggestions and guidelines. A young guest was recently denied access to a slide at Frontier City’s Wild West Water Works.

“The attendant on duty feared her prosthetic device could pose a safety concern on the slide. Her family raised appropriate objections and Frontier City began a review of policies regarding prosthetics on the slides.”

Frontier City added that any guests with prosthetics may ride under the following conditions:

  1. The rider must be able to safely enter and exit the slides without assistance. 2. The rider must be able to assume the prescribed riding position. 3. Prosthetic devices must not have any exposed metal in order to be permitted on the slides.

“Frontier City will be implementing this new policy effective immediately and will be updating all safety signs and website to reflect these changes,” they said. “We regret our previous policy was not clearly posted on park signage and have apologized to this family for the inconvenience and heartache this has caused them.”

Mitchell said that given the design of Averie’s prosthetics, she believes they wouldn’t have scratched the slides.

She added that she hopes the incident puts a halt to the discrimination of people who wear prosthetics.

What makes people beautiful? The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen! (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you struggle and develop compassion.

PS: Remember to hold the one’s you love just a little closer and tighter this week (without expectations)

What makes people beautiful


Filed in Disabilities by Tom Harkin on July 22, 2015

Former Senator Tom Harkin

Former Senator Tom Harkin













Editor’s note: This guest post by former Sen. Tom Harkin has been cross-posted from the blog.

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This nation has come a long way since the passing of this historic civil rights act. Before the ADA, I heard stories of individuals who had to crawl on their hands and knees to go up a flight of stairs at a school or a court house, who couldn’t ride a bus because there wasn’t a lift and individuals couldn’t attend a baseball game with their own family due to inaccessibility at the ball park. Millions of Americans were denied access to their own communities – and because of that they were denied access to the American dream.

I saw this denial firsthand in the life of my older brother Frank, who was deaf. He was the inspiration for my sponsoring the ADA, and for my lifelong work on disability rights. We’ve come so far as a country since passage of the ADA. However, the work is far from over. We must continue the fight for policies that will make the goals of the ADA a reality: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities and their families.

While books, buildings, and baseball stadiums may be far more accessible to people with disabilities than they were before the passage of the ADA, one area stands as a disappointment to me: employment. We have barely seen any increase in employment of people with disabilities since 1990 despite what every survey and study says – that people with disabilities want the benefits, dignity and power of work.

But I have hope we can build a better future for those who want and can work. Over the past year we’ve seen some improvements in disability employment with almost 400,000 workers with disabilities entering the workforce in the past year. We are also seeing dedicated businesses commit to making their workplaces accessible and to hiring people with disabilities. Walgreens, Microsoft, Wells Fargo and many other companies are making great strides in hiring, retaining and promoting people with disabilities.

We have seen some good news from government, too. Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, the president issued an executive order with the goal to hire 100,000 new employees in the federal government over five years. That goal is very close to being met. In another executive order issued in 2014, the president raised the pay of employees on federal contracts, including those with disabilities, to $10.10 an hour. In 2013, the office responsible for all federal contracts established a goal that seven percent of the workforce of federal contractors be people with disabilities. And at the state level, in 2013, Gov. Markell of Delaware made increasing disability employment the goal of the National Governors Association.

These efforts make me hopeful that we are beginning to address the challenge of un- and underemployment of people with disabilities.

Twenty-five years ago the passage of the ADA affirmed the foundation of civil rights for people with disabilities. We have been building an accessible society on that foundation for the past two and a half decades. Like any other foundation, it is what is built on top of it that is important in our daily lives. The civil rights ensured by the ADA can only be guaranteed if we are vigilant about protecting them. As we move forward into the next quarter century of the ADA, let’s all pledge to protect those rights in all parts of our lives. Onward!

Tom Harkin is a former U.S. senator from Iowa. Tom’s signature legislative achievement was the Americans with Disabilities Act. To preserve the intent of the ADA after several court rulings weakened its standards, Tom and Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the ADA Amendments bill to ensure continuing protections from discrimination for all Americans with disabilities. It was signed into law in September 2008.


Today’s Freedom Friday topic (Part 2) is a result of a local news story “Local Man Calls Out Townhome Complex After Disabled Parking is Turned into Staff Parking.”  Freedom Resource Center was asked to reply to this story.  During next few weeks, Freedom Friday will address how the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act may apply to this story.

Last week’s Freedom Friday (July 17, 2015) addressed how the Fair Housing Act may apply to this story.  Today, we will cover how the Americans with Disabilities Act may apply.

The ADA does not cover strictly residential private apartments and homes. Most people will tell you that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers government buildings as well as public and commercial accommodations, but generally not private property. The reality is a little bit more complicated; there are residential facilities covered by the ADA, but only if they have areas or spaces open to the public.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, this requirement does not apply strictly to residential dwellings, but it does apply to the common areas of residential rental property (apartments) that function as a place of public accommodation, i.e., areas that are not intended for the exclusive use of tenants and their guests. The most common example is the rental office. Parking, entrances, access routes, drinking fountains, and restrooms serving the areas of public accommodation must also be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Let’s say Building A has one assigned parking spot for each its 30 units, has a leasing office that’s open to the public, and was built after the ADA (July 26, 1990) was enacted and thus was required to be built in compliance. The ADA Standards state: Parking for Residents. Where at least one parking space is provided for each residential dwelling unit, at least one parking space complying with 502 shall be provided for each residential dwelling unit required to provide mobility features complying with 809.2 through 809.4. Additional Parking Spaces for Residents. Where the total number of parking spaces provided for each residential dwelling unit exceeds one parking space per residential dwelling unit, 2 percent, but no fewer than one space, of all the parking spaces not covered by shall comply with 502. Parking for Guests, Employees, and Other Non-Residents. Where parking spaces are provided for persons other than residents, parking shall be provided

The ADA requires consideration of a number of factors including: the nature and cost of the action needed and the overall financial resources of the site or sites involved. Accordingly, restriping a parking lot to provide the required number of parking spaces for persons with disabilities, because it is relatively inexpensive, is likely to be considered readily achievable.

According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, any parking space reserved for the disabled should be marked using ADA Signs (also known as handicap signs) showing the symbol of accessibility. In addition, any van accessible parking spaces should have a supplemental “Van Accessible” ADA Sign mounted below the other ADA signage. Many states now have their own state specific handicap parking signs that are either posted alone or in combination with other supplemental handicapped signs. Those states that don’t specify their own ADA handicapped signs use Federal ADA Signs instead.

The ADA parking signs should be mounted so that they aren’t blocked from view from the vehicle in the ADA parking space.

Hiding accessible parking signs

Alice Herz Sommer in her London apartment in 2012. Credit Yuri Dojc

Alice Herz Sommer in her London apartment in 2012. Credit Yuri Dojc










Alice Herz Sommer was sent to a concentration camp in Czech Republic, along with her parents, husband and young son.  Her parents were killed immediately, and later husband was taken to Dachau where he died.  When she and she son were eventually freed from the concentration camp, she returned to her home to find it was taken over by others who now lived there.  Despite being incarcerated in a concentration camp, experiencing the deaths of her husband and parents, and losing her home, when asked what her secret to feeling so good was, she mused, life is beautiful.  (A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer)  She learned to be thankful for everything.  While still knowing there were bad things, she chose to look at the good in life.  Even though she had experienced much loss and great challenges, she held no hatred in her heart.  She didn’t view the adversity she experienced as a problem. (Dana Marsh. Extraordinary Freedom)

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you review how you have viewed adversity.

PS:  Remember to hold the one’s you live just a little closer and tighter this week (without expectations).

Today’s Freedom Friday topic is a result of a local news story, “Local Man Calls Out Townhome Complex After Disabled Parking is Turned into Staff Parking.”  Freedom Resource Center was asked to reply to this story.  During next few weeks, Freedom Friday will address how the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act may apply to this story.

The Fair Housing Act applies to multifamily dwellings that have four or more units.  Examples include: apartment complexes, condominiums, townhouses, cooperatives, shelters for homeless persons, dormitory rooms, mobile home parks, trailer courts, nursing homes, assisted – living facilities, group homes for the disabled and retirement communities.  The Fair Housing Act required multifamily dwelling to have the following provisions:

  1. Dwellings shall be designed and constructed to have at least one building entrance on an accessible route, unless it is impractical to do so because of terrain or unusual characteristics of the site.
  2. Dwellings with a building entrance on an accessible route shall be designed in such a manner that the public and common use areas are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
  3. Dwellings with a building entrance on an accessible route shall be designed in such a manner that doors are wide enough to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs.
  4. Dwellings with a building entrance on an accessible route shall be designed and constructed such that all premises contain an accessible route into and through the unit.
  5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.
  6. Dwellings must contain reinforced walls in bathrooms to allow installation of grab bars around toilet, tub, shower stall, and shower seat, where such facilities are provided.
  7. Dwellings must contain usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.

The Fair Housing Act Design Manual states that a minimum of two percent of the number of parking spaces serving covered dwelling units must be made accessible and they must be located on an accessible route; if different types of parking are offered, such as surface parking, garage, or covered spaces, a sufficient number of each type must be made accessible. (Fair Housing Act Design Manual, page 2.23.)

If buyers or renters request an accessible space at the time of the first sale or rental, it may be necessary to provide additional accessible parking spaces if the two percent are already reserved. These spaces must be offered on the same terms and with the full range of choices offered to others.

If additional spaces are needed as a reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability after the buildings are constructed, additional accessible parking spaces may be required.

Noncompliant bathroom

Noncompliant bathroom













There is no back wall grab bar, the side grab bar should be straight and 36 inches from the floor, the toilet paper holder should be 19 inches from the floor and closer to the toilet.  The urinal lip should only be 17 inches from the floor.  The sink does not have proper insulation for the exposed pipes.

A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. (Rosabeth Moss Kanter)  Visions are like goals, if you write them down, you are more likely to achieve them; otherwise, they are more likely to be just dreams.  Set your vision (goals), write them down, and then read them at least once a day.  If you do this, you will reap the rewards for the rest of your life.

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you make history.

PS: Remember to hold the one’s you love just a little closer and tighter this week (without expectations).

on Jul 9, 2015

The Forum

FARGO – When she attended junior high school here, Sherry Bjornson ate lunch with a handful of other children with disabilities on the main floor, while all the other students ate in the cafeteria downstairs.

The reason? Bjornson, who has cerebral palsy, walks with crutches and the school had no elevator.

So she was separated from the rest of her peers. It was like in gym class, when she was not allowed to participate because of the possibility she might be hurt.

It was clear to Bjornson, now 65, that she was different. And it was good preparation for the years ahead, when she would face further discrimination.

But some relief would come in 1990, with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of federal legislation that people with disabilities say has had a profound positive impact on their lives.

People gathered in the east wing of the Fargodome on Thursday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the law, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, prohibits “discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, communications and governmental activities.”

Bjornson has noticed the law’s effect in better accessibility to buildings and improved attitudes toward people with disabilities.

But as she and others at Thursday’s event noted, people with disabilities continue to face challenges including stigma and high unemployment.

“We’re viable employees with talents and skills,” said Keith Bjornson, Sherry Bjornson’s husband.

He lives with quadriplegia and uses a wheelchair. It did not stop him from working 35 years, most of them for the federal government.

Despite the ADA’s successes, people with disabilities suffer from a 70 percent unemployment rate, Keith Bjornson said.

He says part of the problem is that misconceptions about people with disabilities continue to exist.

“Potential employers are not aware of their skills, their work ethic and what they can do,” said the retired 63-year-old.

The unemployment problem was echoed by Nate Aalgaard, executive director of the Freedom Resource Center, a disability rights organization, during a panel discussion about the ADA and its effects 25 years later.

Aalgaard said in an interview that, with a little flexibility from employers in terms of hours and “reasonable accommodations,” more people with disabilities could find jobs that work for them.

Aalgaard has seen the ADA improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in its 25 years of existence.

Many buildings now are accessible to people with disabilities, he noted, and “you see captioning on your TV programs,” among other changes.

But Aalgaard, who broke his neck in a car accident shortly after graduating high school and since then has used a wheelchair, said there is still progress to be made.

Sherry Bjornson agreed.

The stigma against people with disabilities—which she said cost her a job at a phone company and prevented her and her husband from adopting a child in the early 1980s—still exists, she said.

She and her husband did end up adopting a child after the ADA’s signing. So, as she says, it kind of worked out.

But it was a tough road. “There are still people who think that handicapped people are incompetent,” she said. “Keith and I have tried the best we can to show them that we’re pretty competent. We’ve been taking care of ourselves forever.”

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