Cheryl Goeken is used to fighting for her son, Adam.
It doesn’t mean she likes it and it doesn’t mean it gets any easier.
“I am so tired,” she said the other night, taking yet another phone call from yet another reporter asking about how Adam had to let go of his dream of attending his high school prom.
He had had a date – two, in fact – was suited up and even made it to the door of the venue. But no further.
Adam, who lives with a form of cerebral palsey, is in a wheelchair and the site of the prom was not wheelchair accessible.
The event was being held on the second floor of the building and the senior from Lake Oswego High School – who earlier this year had been King of the Winter Formal – was blocked by a narrow staircase. The building, which was built in 1907 and is exempt from many accessibility rules and laws such as the American with Disabilities Act, has no elevator.
So, while his dates went upstairs, Adam went with his parents for frozen yogurt, coming back later to pick up the ladies and bring them home.
“It was really awful,” said Cheryl. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault. There was no one out there looking to deny Adam the chance to go to his prom.
“This was just a mistake. The thing is, though, the law was still broken. It wasn’t really any one person’s fault but people need to be aware of these issues.”
Cheryl has been aware of the challenges most of Adam’s life – a brain hemorrhage when he was just a couple of months old left him really only able to use one of his four limbs – and she has met those challenges.
“People need to know there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things,” she said. “We can’t exclude people just because they have more issues to overcome.”
“This isn’t a question of providing special treatment to people who are different. It is a question of making sure that everyone is treated fairly. This is a civil rights issue.”
She has worked to make sure Adam has had an inclusive life – from school to afterschool activities like horseback riding.
“He has the right to expect the same things as anyone else,” she said. “And on Saturday that did not happen.”
While she does not want to single anyone out for blame – she has nothing but praise for Principal Bruce Plato who “has always done everything he can for Adam; he is terrific” – she wants people to know that things need to improve.
While Adam is getting set to graduate, Cheryl and her husband – a member of The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises on disability issues – recognizes there will be new challenges and they plan to keep fighting.
“It has become too easy to exclude people in society,” she said. “There are laws that say we can’t do that and yet it happens. Every day. And that needs to change.”