NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 19th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we thank you for that! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Living with disabilities.
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It guarantees they have the opportunity to participate in the mainstream of American life, whether in the classroom or a national park.
EICHER: Senior correspondent Kim Henderson takes us to meet a young woman who benefits from that piece of legislation nearly every day. Here’s her story.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: President George H. W. Bush was the center of attention in the Rose Garden on July 26, 1990.
BUSH: I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. God bless you all.” [Applause]
Almost three years later, Lauren Compere was born. You could say Lauren and the ADA have sort of grown up together. She’s a quadriplegic, and she needs help with everything.
COMPERE: If you want your hair tucked behind your ear, if you want a sip of coffee, if you want a page turned in a book, if you want your shirt readjusted…
Each day, two shifts of personal assistants care for Lauren. Even so, she’s managed to graduate from college, intern at Joni and Friends, and help found a non-profit that provides housing for people with disabilities. She water skis and has a new engagement ring on her finger.
LAUREN: When you find yourself in a relationship or engaged or married, it really shines a light on all the difficulties of disabilities, on abandonment issues. I’ve had probably over 40 caregivers in and out of my life since I was about 5 years old. I’m used to them coming in and me trying to get to know them but me knowing their time here is limited. While there’s joy, you all of a sudden realize the need that you have for Christ, and that you can’t do it on your own.
Lauren is 27 years old. She’s vibrant and fun, right down to her strappy sandals and powder blue pedicure. And she’s grown up in a household that’s loving and happy, but it’s also real and raw. Mom Lisa puts brownie bites into Lauren’s mouth while her dad, Richard, adjusts a special water straw. They say Lauren’s condition is unusual because it’s not the result of an injury.
LISA: I guess at 3 months is really when we started kind of questioning things and really pursuing some sort of diagnosis. When she got routine shots, she didn’t cry. She didn’t flinch, she didn’t blink. In utero, she didn’t move very much. So I think it is something that happened early on.
The Comperes made an appointment with a pediatric neurologist, where they learned Lauren was catastrophically disabled. What the doctor said next really got the young couple’s attention.
RICHARD: He said, “But she’s going to be okay because she has good parents.” And so it was almost like a challenge. She will be okay if she has good parents.
AUDIO: [FAMILY TALKING]
Lauren’s parents made sure she grew up in a house with wide halls, swinging doors, and a roll-in shower. She points to the shower as an example of how dependent she is.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF SHOWER]
Every morning, one of her personal assistants puts her in a Hoyer lift and places her under the stream of water.
LAUREN: They get soaking wet themselves as well half the time. And they get me out and we continue the two-and-a-half to three-hour process, depending on how much I have to get ready for the day.
That’s a lengthy “getting ready” process. But everything takes longer when disabilities are involved. Lauren says that was a problem on church youth group outings.
LAUREN: I can remember multiple occasions where we were left. We looked up and were like “where did everyone go?” Everyone else’s speed is so much faster, and nobody thinks about that.
Lauren’s dad, Richard, is an attorney. But back in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, he didn’t pay much attention to it.
RICHARD: Inaccessibility has a whole new meaning to me now. A 3- or 4-inch little curb for someone in a wheelchair is the same as a 10-foot steel wall.
Now he’s an ADA advocate. While Lauren was in elementary school, Richard pressed for her to have personal care on site.
RICHARD: Because of the ADA, I was able to get the lawyer for the Department of Education to call the school to say, “Yes, you will provide that service to Lauren.”
Then when Lauren was in high school, he made sure she had an equal shot at the beauty pageant.
RICHARD: So I went to the school and said, “Lauren wants to participate. Will that be a problem?”
Officials told him they’d be glad to accommodate. But later Richard learned the program would include contestants climbing various stairways built just for the pageant. Her father said no, and the school had to redo everything.
RICHARD: There were 53 ladies. Guess what? They chose nine beauties. And Lauren was one of the nine. [Richard cries, Lauren says, “Awww”] I mean, you don’t want to be a jerk. But if you’re going to accommodate, you’ve got to accommodate. If Lauren had been relegated to spinning around in the shadows—no way, no way.
Lauren says her high school pageant is an example of the kind of obstacle the ADA can’t fix.
LAUREN: The ADA impacts brick and mortar. It allows people with disabilities to get jobs. It allows them to have access into buildings, and it allows them to go to school.
And while all that is important, she acknowledges elevators and curb cuts aren’t really the heart of the matter.
LAUREN: As long as the people inside have an attitude of “I want to connect with you. I want to see past the 500 pounds of black metal, and I want to get to know the person that’s inside that chair,” then I’ll go into any building. Pick me up and carry me. I don’t care. It’s not about the brick and mortar physical access. It’s about the attitude that’s inside.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Madison, Mississippi.