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Bangor woman with ALS hopes more businesses become accessible

The New England ADA Center wants to help.
Tammy Michaels has been on a mission to bring awareness to ALS and accessibility and the New England ADA wants to help.
Tammy Michaels has been on a mission to bring awareness to ALS and accessibility and the New England ADA wants to help.(WABI)
Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 7:10 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - We’ve been following a Bangor woman’s journey with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS.

Tammy Michaels has been on a mission to bring awareness to ALS and accessibility and the New England ADA Center wants to help.

“I’m getting catheter. A super pubic catheter and a feeding tube now even though I don’t have to use the feeding tube but to help because surgery is more dangerous the longer you go. The lifespan on my hands and left arm, they said three to six weeks. Later, my speech will slur, so I’m getting an eye gaze. We started voice banking. I’ve pretty much lost all mobility in my legs,” she says.

As time goes on the disease will create changes for her -- one of the biggest changes has been using a wheelchair.

Michaels has found it’s not easy or safe to go to some of favorite places anymore because of accessibility.

“We’ve just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Jason Angel.

Angel works in Boston, Massachusetts as an information and research specialist for the New England ADA Center.

“For the last 30 years businesses have had a responsibility to make improvements to make their places more accessible.”

His job to help others understand their rights and obligations.

“Maine is one of the oldest states in the country and now we’re getting people who are aging into their disabilities,” he says.

While they cover all of New England, Angel is very familiar with the state -- he graduated from Nokomis. He knows the challenge some older businesses face.

“You’ve got so many places that have been constructed prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act that need modification and the challenge is making those modifications to make themselves more accessible. What we would do is we would take any call we would receive on our technical assistance line and talk through what the situation is. The 2010 ADA standards are very complicated and we can help anyone trying to understand how compliance fits into a building construction. We can show them,” he says.

He also knows the barriers those who use wheelchairs face every day.

“I’m a wheelchair user, myself. I was injured in a car accident 30 years ago,” says Angel.

An important note -- terminology like wheelchair bound and handicapped are outdated.

“The appropriate terminology is people with disabilities. We want that person-first language so you’ll want to say ‘there’s a person that is blind, or a person that uses a wheelchair.’ It has evolved to people with disabilities and it’s not handicap parking, it’s accessible parking. And your accessible entrance not your handicapped entrance.”

He says this might be the best time for businesses to look at their accessibility while they’re navigating the new normal. Some things to think about --

“Is there a place to park? Once I park out of the car is there an accessible route to the door? Is the doorway wide enough? Once I’m in the door is there an accessible route in and around the establishment?”

He says, “A business that opens their arms to people with disabilities will find that their customers are loyal.”

“It’s not something I think is done maliciously by businesses, it’s just you’re not in that situation. You don’t think about those things,” says David Michaels, Tammy’s husband.

“There are other people besides those who can walk and do the normal things. There are people like myself so think about us as well,” says Tammy.

You can find more information like business checklists and how you can contact him at NewEnglandADA.org.

Copyright 2020 WABI. All rights reserved.

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