Equitable Access

My son Josh, who has autism, is a huge Stowe Gondola fan. Not riding them— watching them. Which he can do literally for hours. Recently we were up at Stowe and Josh was doing his thing, gleefully (and loudly) watching the Gondolas, while I was sitting in my car reading— when an official-looking Stowe person with “Stowe Resort” on his shirt and a fancy name tag— came up to my car.  He said he was the Stowe Gondola Manager and asked if I was with the young man watching the Gondolas. My immediate thought was “Uh oh— here it comes— the ‘you need to purchase a ticket to be here’ or ‘your son is bothering customers” comment. I quickly introduced myself and he pulled a box from behind his back: a miniature Stowe Gondola model. He handed it to me and said it was for my son because the staff had noticed how much Josh like watching the Gondola, and how often he comes to visit.

It was so sweet and unexpected. I was speechless.

If you are a parent of a child with autism, you can possibly relate to how extraordinary a moment like this is. If you live in the world with some sort of difference, in the way you look, or act, or think— in a way that “normal” society finds occasion to mock, bully, judge, discriminate or violate your rights because of fear and prejudice— you might also relate to how an ordinary act of kindness can feel extraordinary.

And there is this mad clash of gratitude and pain. Gratitude for the ordinary act of kindness, and pain for all the other times simple, everyday activities can be challenging and even heartbreaking— often having to do with equitable access. Equitable access to schools, playgrounds, housing, bathrooms, jobs, healthcare, community… and so much more.

I feel enormously lucky to be leading the team at Pathways Vermont because we believe in equitable access for every single person we meet. For our staff, clients, board, and community. It is our heartbeat.

We believe that no matter what challenges you are facing, or no matter how you live in the world that may not currently be readily understood or accepted by others, you deserve equal access. At Pathways, we advocate for the rights of people to live without stigma and discrimination and we promote civil rights, community integration, health care, affordable housing and employment for all.

There is still more work to be done, but I also believe strides are being made every day. And the miniature Gondola in my son’s apartment is just one small reminder.

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