Access Living founder Marca Bristo made us all listen, including me

By Tom McNamee: For More Info, Go Here…

Bristo’s talent was in building bridges between the “abled” and the “disabled” by making us see there is no need for bridges at all. She died Sunday morning at age 66.

The first time I met Marca Bristo, I am sorry to say, I made it all about me.

Marca, who founded Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities, rolled into a conference room at the Sun-Times in a wheelchair, where she was to meet with the editorial board. I took this as my cue to tell her about my own mild disability, my bad hearing.

I didn’t actually call my hearing problem a disability. I didn’t think of it that way. It’s not like I used a wheelchair. I just couldn’t hear well.

But I knew I wasn’t dealing with my hearing loss as well as I could, and something told me that this woman who fights for people with disabilities — the real ones — might have something helpful to say about that. Besides, I had to explain why I’d be leaning forward during the meeting, asking her to repeat herself.

“I have trouble hearing people,” I warned her, “so you should know that.”

She nodded.

“I can hardly use the phone anymore,” I said. “Thank God for email.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“And I can’t go to the movies or a play anymore. And if there’s a fire truck with a siren coming up behind me, I won’t even hear it.”

She kept listening.

“I’ve got these hearing aids,” I said, “but they don’t do the trick anymore.”

Marca pointed at me. She shrugged.

“You have a disability,” she said. “You don’t use the word. You should.”

A disability. Yes. I had a disability.

Which is life, in the way Marca put it, and not to be denied. My disability didn’t define me, which I suppose is what I feared. It’s just part of the deal.

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