1991 – Orlando – Deborah Cunningham

My early years with ADAPT, probably my third arrest, was in Orlando. Since AHCA (American Health Care Association) was our target and they were staying in the beautiful new Peabody hotel, that’s where ADAPT landed. I remember getting into a little push and shoving incident with one of the hotel security guards who was making sure that none of us were getting anywhere near the front door of the hotel. The pushing and shoving was definitely not a principal of “passive resistance” and I felt guilty about it even though I actually enjoyed the confrontation.

I remember a judge who appeared on a video monitor who sentenced us to five days in jail. He was obviously pissed off and knew enough about ADAPT to know that keeping us in jail might mean fewer of us to bother the Peabody’s AHCA guests. The same judge later reduced our sentence to three days, which everyone believed was influenced by the number and significant disabilities of the arrestees.

Their justice system was not equipped to handle five days with us as their guests.

I believe that there was over 100 of us arrested that day and I remember that they took us to a very large cell after we were arraigned and sentenced to five days in jail. I remember thinking at the time that this was going to be quite an experience for me since my previous arrests had rarely been longer than a few hours. I don’t remember how many cellmates that I had, probably six or eight other women. I think that all of us were wheelchair users.

Little bunk-beds with thin little mattresses lined the walls. We looked at those beds and realized that there was significant risk that we might actually leave this cell with a pressure sore. We told our officers (COs) that we would not and could not sleep on those little thin mattresses. I don’t think that they believed us at first. We figured that they must have consulted the medical staff because before bedtime that evening, a sea of egg-crate mattresses flooded the hallway as we watched from our cell.

Something that had bothered me before during other actions became even more apparent during those three days: The tendency that we have to demonize officers that are obligated to arrest us, and in this case, to provide our personal assistance. Some of my cellmates gave the officers a pretty bad time of it. I remember feeling that it was unfair to the officers who were there to do their job and most of them told us that they had not been adequately trained, and others said that they had no training for the job that they were expected to take on such tasks as: bowel and bladder care, transferring from bed to wheelchair and back again, turning and positioning us in our chairs and in those lousy little beds. I remember talking to some of my cellmates about their interaction and behavior with the officers. Some of them agreed with me; others didn’t.

One thing is for certain, it was a very stressful and harsh experience for all of us and yet it is one that I would not trade.

After awhile we were able to talk with the officers and explain about why we were protesting the American Health Care Association’s convention. We had some good conversations and gave them a crash course in ADAPT and Disability Rights. Many of them got it and promised to support our work. I know that we all learned a lot about ourselves from that experience and I am certain that the officers learned and experienced life-changing insights into our world.