Monday, December 11, 2006
Help Me Howard: Wheelchair and Valet
Itís a tough situation, confined to a wheelchair. A prisoner in her own condominium, and the only way out to see people every day -- if the valets come and wheel you down. But then the condo told the valet, "You can't wheel the woman out anymore.' Not nice, but is it legal to refuse to help a wheelchair-bound woman? It's a question for Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Ask Marcel Arof a question and you get a straight answer.
Patrick Fraser: "Is it frustrating to be in a wheelchair?
Marcel Arof: "Hell, yes."
Severe arthritis and a bad surgery six years ago left Marcel confined to a wheelchair -- not that she wants you to feel sorry for her.
Marcel Arof: "And then I think of all the little children that are born that cannot get out of a chair."
Marcel can stand if she hangs onto something, but most of her day is spent sitting alone in the condo she rents.
Patrick Fraser: "Basically, you are a prisoner in here unless someone takes you downstairs."
Marcel Arof: "Absolutely true."
Marcel's arthritic arms can't wheel a chair, so, for the last year when they were not busy, a valet would come get her every afternoon and take her outside the building.
Patrick Fraser: "Why do you like to go downstairs?"
Marcel Arof: "To be among people."
Patrick Fraser: "Where do you like to sit?"
Marcel Arof: "I sit right over there by the couch. Hi, how are you? It's nice to have someone say hello to you."
It is nice to have someone say hello -- it sounds so simple, but for a woman confined to a wheelchair, it provides.
Marcel Arof: "Life, that's the answer. Life is there."
Marcel loved it, and so did the valet service.
Marcel Arof: "It worked beautifully, for them as well."
Patrick Fraser: "Because you tipped?"
Marcel Arof: "That's correct."
Patrick Fraser: "So where is my tip?"
Marcel Arof: "You've got to push me back up."
But when a valet was pushing her last month, he delivered some bad news.
Marcel Arof: "Said to me, 'Marcel, we will no longer be able to do this. We have been threatened that we will be fired.'"
After the building went from rentals to condos, a new company took over the management.
Marcel says she was first told people were complaining about her being outside every day, then told she was a liability problem.
Marcel Arof: "'Well, insurance will not permit this, because we will be responsible'."
The fact that the association worried about the liability of a valet pushing Marcel surprised her.
First of all, the valet service is a private company. Their employees drive cars and push carts filled with the residentís groceries up to the residentsí condos.
But no matter the reason, the decision frightens Marcel.
Marcel Arof: "I will tell you truthfully, I have panic attacks -- if you must know -- because I don't know where to go, I don't."
Some residents have offered to push Marcel when they are around but asking makes her uncomfortable.
Marcel Arof: "I have to bother people to bring me down. I have to bother people to bring me up. How long do you think they are going to stand for that?"
She would rather pay the valets, but she is not able to.
Marcel Arof: "I think it's very sad. I don't know what if anything can be done about it."
Which is why she asked us to come out, Howard, what can be done?
Howard Finkelstein: "Unfortunately, the law won't help Marcel, because the condo association hired the valet service to perform specific functions that did not include physically moving its owners or renters. However, Marcel can try to get the Board of Directors of the condo association to renegotiate the contract to include helping this service."
When I talked to the valet service, they told me, 'Under the contract, we have to follow the wishes of the condo association.'
The attorney for the association told me they were able to allow the valets to take Marcel up and down when the building just had a few occupants. But now that it's filling up, they say they do not have the personnel to provide that type of service.
However, he added there is no problem with Marcel sitting in the common area.
Marcel Arof: "All that is here are young people. That's why I love it."
That means Marcel will have to do what she really does not want to do -- ask her neighbors to help. So far, she has discovered they are wonderful people.
Patrick Fraser: "Marcel is such a fun person. She talked about never wanting to be in a nursing home. The reason: 'I donít want to sit around all day with a bunch of old people like myself.' Hopefully her Aventura neighbors will help her get downstairs each day so she can stay in that building with all of those younger people."
A situation got you confined? Want to break out? Let us roll in. We promise we will bring the answers, although sometimes the law does not provide the perfect solution.
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