Mario, author of "So You Want My Handicapped Parking Place?" had many personal “heroes,” who have made significant contributions to his development, especially relating to his dealing with a life-long disability. These were ordinary people who probably didn't know what impact their contributions would have on a disabled child or adult, but always seemed to do the right thing anyway. Following is Mario's narrative of these "heroes" in his life.
Billy Kennedy, only 19 at the time, an entry level YMCA employee in Fostoria, Ohio in 1961. Billy drove to my family’s home every Saturday morning for two years, and picked me up in his compact stick-shift car. I was 9 at the time. He drove me to the Y and helped me into the swimming pool, where he painstakingly taught me how to swim, first with a pontoon strapped to my back, and later without. It was a big day when I finally swam across the pool without the pontoon, and I remember it well. I don’t know who was happier, Billy or me. I owe him a debt of gratitude that I can swim to this day!
Barbara Sousa, from Napa, CA, and the mother of a girl I knew in High School. She took an enormous amount of interest in me, buying me new clothes, arranging for private music lessons, and eventually bought me a car and set of hand controls so that I could actually drive. She made a lot of sacrifices for me, often against her daughter’s wishes, and became an amazing, supportive friend. This is one time when losing the girl and “winning” the mother was not such a bad deal.
Mr. Reynolds was my Junior High school math teacher in Fostoria, OH, who stopped class five-minutes early, took three other boys, and together carried me four floors to my next class. He alternated boys, because they often let out a loud groan in class if Mr. Reynolds chose them for “wheelchair duty,” as he liked to call it. He did this for an entire year so I could be educated in the mainstream schools. I still see the sweat on his forehead and arms with each stair. Thank you Mr. Reynolds!
Andy Cottle, my Napa, CA. high school music teacher, was a stern, competent choir director whom I didn’t know personally that well. He was, however, totally committed to my talent and got me many college scholarship offers, one of which I took. The music wing had eight cement steps to its entrance, and Mr. C regularly hauled me up the stairs alone, rain or shine. (I was always impressed with how strong he was for a musician!) He also made special arrangements at every concert to accommodate my disability. Never once did I ever feel a tinge of bias for altering the perfect uniformity of his highly trained, award-winning choirs. He mentored me to be the Assistant Choir Director.
Rose Patterson gave me my first job. An elderly librarian for the Napa State Hospital Medical Library, she didn’t flinch when I told her I could re-stock library shelves and do special projects, even though I had no idea how I was physically going to carry a pile of medical books. She later bought me a special cart for hauling them around the library. The biggest challenge in this job was keeping the orderlies away from me during my lunch break, as they thought I had escaped one of the mental wards.
Dick Duvall and Ed Church, my scout leaders (to the far right and left of the photo), were two amazing men. They were colorblind, so to speak, to the fact I was in a wheelchair. I attended every scout jamboree, every cookout, wilderness journeys, and I never once heard, “Mario can’t go.” It was more often, “How are we going to get Mario up there?” These guys didn’t need special training on how to integrate the disabled into group activities; they were already professionals at it. They gave me a big boost during the years I began doubting myself.
Randy and Cathy Ford, friends from Washington State, always included me in a variety of fun family activities: Camping (numerous times), boating, trail hikes, etc. Always supportive and always “blind” to my physical limitations, they provided steady support during the years the children were growing up, and always had the ramp ready when I came to their house.
Bob and Laverne Emerson, dear friends for almost 33 years, now reside in Stockton, CA. Bob has taken off doors in his house to accommodate me, dragged me on mats in and out of the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, and once almost got ran over by a car when he was trying to save a handicapped parking place for me.
Norene and Ernie Antin, my dear sister and brother-in-law, have provided every accommodation imaginable in their homes over the years so I could be comfortable. Ernie, an engineer, has built many ramps and removed doors, all so I could visit them, even at their hillside home in Washington.
Steve Novarro, a fabulous friend, who has taken me to dozens of professional baseball games. Each time, Steve swaps his 7th row seats for the handicapped section seats (much farther back) so I can come along – no small sacrifice to an avid baseball nut! He also hauled my manual wheelchair in and out of his car numerous times, until one day realized that maybe it’s easier to take my wheelchair van, which we do now.
Wayne Ferrante, my brother, a year and a half older, must have carried me up a thousand flights of stairs before turning fifteen, before the ADA improved access for the disabled. He was very strong, and was a constant helper with disability issues. My other siblings were also helpful (Joe, Fran, Norene, Mark), but Wayne was assigned “wheelchair duty” by our parents.
Jill and Henry Alonzo, two good friends, who encourage me in the day-to-day challenges of disability life. Jill’s ability to focus on the humorous side of my disability experiences allows me to view them in a much more positive, if not entertaining light. Don’t call her for sympathy, though, because more than likely she will just laugh at the latest predicament I have gotten into. I was touched when they bought their first house and built a special outside access ramp for me (at no small expense).
Ben and Phyllis Reagle (my inlaws) were always sensitive to my mobility challenges and comfort at their home in Idaho. Ben built countless access ramps, a lowered basketball hoop, and many other accommodations. Later in life, Ben, too, used a wheelchair, so all those improvements helped him, too.
Norma and Joe Ferrante, my beloved parents, both now passed on, were unique for their generation. They allowed me to pursue my ambitions as a disabled child without a lot of attempts to hold me back or spare me from pain or accidents. They were also committed to having me attend public schools, and went to bat to make sure I had what I needed to live a normal life. Always supportive to the best of their means, they were phenomenal parents of a disabled child.
Joe Ferrante, my son, a University of Southern California music composition and film music grad, has always been completely and totally supportive of my disability challenges. I remember his first big school concert in 5th grade. I was silently apprehensive about his classmates learning that his father was in a wheelchair, but Joe proudly pushed me into the concert hall and made sure I was settled before walking onstage. He’s always a steady support of “extra muscle” when I need it, and is not afraid to go head on with an ADA violator in his father’s behalf.
Allyson Salinger-Ferrante, my daughter-in-law and Joe’s wife, a PhD from USC in Comparative Literature, gave me much needed encouragement to keep remembering and writing my disability experiences. She plans vacations for us with the utmost attention to disability issues, and once planned a complete European vacation with handicapped vehicles and guides in every major city.
Summer Ferrante, my daughter, is a constant “disability advocate.” She will send me a text that reads, “Someone is in your parking place” (as if I own it), and gets outraged at the handicapped “pretenders” that have grandma’s parking pass. As a graduate in Sociology from Azusa Pacific University, she’s given me great insight into the “boxes” chapter of this book, as well as her numerous edits and re-writes. She grew up taking so much of the bias side of my disability in stride.
Susan Ferrante, my wife of 39 years, has been totally adaptive of the special challenges that come with marrying a disabled person. Her sacrifices are many, but she is always supportive of my limitations, goals and aspirations. She knows ADA law by now as well as I do! I’m sure there are times she is frustrated over access issues and physical difficulties, but never focuses on them. She is a constant advocate for the needs of the disabled, and encourages me often to affect change, improve social awareness, and to remain unafraid to try new things that stretch my physical comfort zone. She’s an amazing life-long support partner.
"If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation."
-- Helen Keller (deaf/blind American author, lecturer, activist)
Mario talks about his heroes.