1983 – Denver – Barbara Toomer

On our arrival at Denver on 23 October 1983 the sun was shining and the weather was warm. We were met by Wade Blank, who told us we would be extremely valuable on the picket line outside of the airport. About 4 p.m., Wade had a call that there was trouble at the Hilton. So, leaving a small nucleus to welcome the American Public Transportation Association at the airport, we piled into 3 vans and went downtown.

We were unloaded at the front entrance of the beautiful downtown Hilton and we joined the 25 wheelchair users already on the sidewalk. The set look on the faces of the APTA men as they arrived, and their averted eyes showed we were at least noticed.

That evening we gathered at an unused Jewish Synagogue Wade had rented for a supper of beans, salad, hot dogs and cookies. Wade explained he was on 24-hour call, and if there was any problem, it would be taken care of within 10 minutes. Everyone was given the chance to make comments then were loaded into the Atlantis vans – 6 wheelchairs to a van – and taken to places we were to stay.

The next morning was one of those typical intermountain days, from a high of 75° on Sunday to wet, drizzly high of 53°. We encircled the building about 10 feet apart to be very visible to all passersby. We all had distinctive pins, “We will ride”, “ADAPT – American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation” we demonstrated our resolve all day. We were bundled up as best we could. Many of us thought our feet had permanent frostbite.

The press was everywhere. T.V., radio stations, newspapers, McNeil-Leher Report, Washington Post and U.S. News. Most of us in wheelchairs had the opportunity to be interviewed by local T.V., radio and newspapers. We passed, out literature about ADAPT and spoke to anyone who would speak to us. We were pulled off the picket lines at 4 p.m. and transported to the synagogue for dinner and a discussion by Dennis Cannon from the Architectural Barriers & Transportation Compliance Board.

Tuesday: The day was glorious, 72°, sun shining and we didn’t have to man the picket lines until 9 a.m! We surrounded the building again and traded off shifts in the sun and shade, because there was a low of 40° and it took time to warm up. The article in the paper was pushed to the 3rd page because of the invasion of Grenada.

Certain concessions were given when APTA officials got concerned about the smooth running of their conference. For not disrupting the meetings, ADAPT bargained a 20 minute presentation to APTA on Wednesday morning, just before Andrew Young’s (ex-United Nations Ambassador and the then Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia). Negotiations were held in Mayor Pena’s office about the logistics of the presentation for the next day.

Wednesday: We arrived at 8:15 at the United Bank Plaza in 36° weather and wheeled to the hotel. The street lobby was empty and we encountered no difficulty in gaining use of the freight elevators. No one stopped us. One of the things ADAPT had made clear was that our presentation would not start until the hall was full.

At 9:35 the meeting was called to order, introductions by APTA and Mayor Pena’s office were made and we started. During the presentation of the resolution, the ADAPT members softly, then louder, chanted: “We will ride, we will ride, we will ride,” continuously. It carried such an emotional impact some members of APTA joined in with us.

Following the presentation we assembled in the small park kitty-corner from the Hilton. Mayor Young spoke on the parallels of the two movements (civil rights movement and disability rights movement) and of the necessity for accessible transportation. There was a meeting with ADAPT, a high official of UMTA (Urban Mass Transit Act) and Dennis Cannon, ABTCB, with the outcome being that an UMTA official and Dennis will meet with Secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole (who successfully avoided us on Monday) to discuss the pros and cons of paratransit and mainline accessibility.