Minnie Griffin burst into tears as her wheelchair hummed along the sidewalk toward the podium. It was a rare moment of vulnerability for the 49-year-old grandmother and disabled advocate being honored Wednesday for her tenacity.
Ms. Griffin was one of four recipients of the Triumph Award for Rehabilitation Success from Walton Rehabilitation Hospital. For wheelchair-bound patients like Mrs. Griffin and others with disabilities, transportation is always a top concern, Walton CEO Dennis Skelley said.
"It's always the biggest issue year after year," he said.
About twice a week, Mrs. Griffin rides Augusta Public Transit buses from Oak Pointe Apartments to the mall or just to socialize, she said.
The problem is many of the bus stops are on curbs with no accessible ramp nearby.
"If you don't get off on a street or a driveway, you can't get off nowhere. Or on," she said. After she "had a few words" with a particularly uncooperative driver, Mrs. Griffin said she talked to a supervisor and now finds the drivers are more accommodating, going out of their way to let her off and on at an accessible spot.
"We are aware of disabled issues, and we try to address them when we can," Augusta Transit Director Heyward Johnson said.
Also among the honored was Macuch Steel Products, which stood by an employee with no family nearby after he had a stroke. Jack Biastock had worked for the company for less than a year when he had a stroke Dec. 22 that left him disabled, said Macuch's human resource manager, Cindy Fortier.
The company rallied around him, taking him to appointments and making sure his needs were covered, Mr. Skelley said.
Mrs. Fortier even got power of attorney to make sure his rent and his bills were paid, Mr. Skelley said. While he was in rehab at Walton West, she talked with the therapist to ensure the skills he was working on were the ones he would need to get back to the job and live independently.
Mr. Biastock is still recovering and living with his sister in California but is doing some contract work for the company.
"Macuch is a family-owned business, and we as a management team incorporate a family atmosphere there," Mrs. Fortier said.
The percentage of disabled employees in Georgia has actually been dropping even as the number of disabled has been increasing. It is often up to people like Mrs. Griffin, who lost both legs to diabetes, to advocate for themselves, which physical therapist Cheryl Howard said she is well-equipped to do.
"That's why she's so strong and powerful because she will face adversity, whatever it takes," Mrs. Howard said.
"That's right, I'm bold," Mrs. Griffin said, provoking laughs around the lunch table.
"Just because I lost my legs doesn't change me as a person. I still need the same things. Just a little bit more help. Not a lot. At least give me some way to get on the bus. I'm paying for it."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disability on the rise
About two of every five people with disabilities live in the South, and the number in Georgia is increasing, according to the recent report Status of Georgians with Disabilities. Between the 1990 census and the 2000 census, the number increased from more than 478,000 to more than 1 million. Yet the percentage of those employed dropped from 33 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2002.