Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Help Me Howard: Wheelchair Lift
When some people are told will never walk and be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives, they give up, but many people don't. Trying to live a normal life, one Margate woman was trying to swim till her homeowners association blocked her, and she turned where every South Floridian knows to go, to Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Twenty-five years ago, Shelley Laing was driving down a road in Montana, she hit an ice patch, the car flipped three times and she was left paralyzed.
John Laing: "She never gave up, she readjusted and started a new life."
A new life in a wheelchair and as these pictures show, a life as normal as possible in the wheelchair.
John Laing: "Shelley has spent her entire life since her accident fighting for the rights of others. Appointed to serve by governor of Montana advisory council on disabilities."
The one thing Shelley could not defeat were the Montana winters, Margate was the solution.
John Laing: "For the sunshine and warm weather."
Patrick: "How about the warm people?"
John Laing: "That would be nice, but it hasn't proven to be true so far."
And some of those wonderful South Floridians in their homeowners association made this story necessary. You see, to stay in shape Shelley needs to swim.
Shelley Laing: "Just even floating is great, but I am a lap swimmer and its just for general health. Its the best thing I could be doing for myself."
But the homeowners association pool was not built for handicapped people, and does not have a swim lift to get people with disabilities in and out of the water, so Shelley asked the board to install one.
Shelley Laing: "The first meeting I was told no by the President. That no, they couldn't afford it."
Shelley and John talked about it, they decided to scrape up the $5,000 to pay for a lift, like this themselves, and to maintain it. Then went back to the board and made their offer.
Shelley Laing: "At that meeting the swim lift was voted down."
And also at that meeting the Laings say the truth started coming out.
John Laing: "I think it's discrimination, but it's a very subtle mean spirited kind."
Shelley Laing: "I don't think it's subtle discrimination, I think it's blatant."
But does a homeowners association have to install a lift for a person in a wheelchair, and if they refuse that can they also refuse if the Laings are willing to pay for it, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "The homeowners association does not have to pay for the lift, but they cannot stop Shelley and John from installing the lift, that is a violation of the law, and if they can't afford it there are various agencies including some insurance companies that will pay for the lift."
When I spoke to the association president she told me we cannot afford the upkeep and the liability. We then asked Randall Berg from the Florida Justice Institute to step in. His firm specializes in housing discrimination. He wrote the association and their attorney letters reminding them that the Laings were willing to pay for the lift and its maintenance and added, "failure of paradise gardens to approve the request will result in legal action for violation of the Fair Housing Act in federal court."
That got their attention. The associations lawyer sent this letter to Bergs Firm claiming it was miscommunication, that the Laings never said they would pay for the chair. He wrote that now, my client is pleased to "permit your client to use the lift." Berg's response, "you should always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Paradise Gardens is now one step closer to being Paradise for Shelley Laing."
Shelley Laing: "They don't know me yet, but I don't go away."
Shelley won and the Laings are convinced when they get the lift installed it will bring other people with ailments out of their homes, people who couldn't use the pool before.
John Laing: "When that thing is installed in whatever fashion, there will be other people. You know that if you build it, they will come thing, it is absolutely true."
Shelley Laing: "All I want to do is to be able to get in the pool and swim, that's all I want to do."
Patrick Fraser: "And she will be swimming soon. John thinks they can have the chair installed within a couple of months, and even better news, Shelley's insurance is now going to pay for it. By the way, if you are battling a condo or homeowners association, don't give up and consider talking to an attorney because if you are right, the association will usually have to pay your attorney fees.
Associated with an association you want to disassociate from? Contact us, we will be happy to give you a lift and chair the group fighting for you.