Disabilities Turn People Into Advocates

Disabilities turn Diana Mairose, Robert Shuemak into advocates.
By Jessica Brown | March 2010

Diana Mairose, 32, of Oakley cringed every time she heard the word "retarded."

She was diagnosed with Noonan's syndrome, a rare disorder associated with learning problems. She said the "R-word" hurts because it's evolved into an insult.

The pair decided to change things.

Shuemak, now 40, and Mairose are members of the Advocacy Leadership Network of Hamilton County, a group that advocates for and increases awareness of services for people with disabilities.

The organization is aligned with Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services. Members work with politicians to pass laws that help those with disabilities. They teach home-care workers how to handle clients with disabilities. They show people that disabilities don't have to slow anyone down.

They've tried to make the world a more tolerant, well-equipped place for people with disabilities.

At a recent training seminar for home-care workers, the pair shared their stories. Mairose explained that the best workers are those who view their work, be it cooking, cleaning or providing transportation, as helping a friend, rather than just doing a job.

Afterward, several people thanked them for sharing their views. "We're always looking for ways to do our jobs better," said one woman, eagerly shaking their hands.

Mairose bustles from place to place and city to city for lectures or conferences.

Mairose works on a committee for Metro that helped convince the organization to lower the windows on buses so those of short stature, like herself, can see out. She works part time at Home Depot, is a member of the East Walnut Hills community council and this summer will celebrate 10 years of living on her own.Her next project is to get the word "handicapped" removed from the signs that mark parking spaces for those with disabilities because, she says, the word is demeaning. Shuemak has epilepsy and developmental disabilities that affect his sight. "I wouldn't be who I am if it wasn't for these disabilities," said Shuemak, who has gotten his GED, earned a bachelor's degree in social work and is three courses away from a graduate degree in mental health and social work despite dealing with the sudden death of his wife in 2005, which left him a single dad of a 2-year-old. He encourages those with disabilities to find good mentors who can help them navigate the educational system and issues in their lives.

Mairose and Shuemak were among those who successfully lobbied for the words "mental retardation" to be removed from the name of the Hamilton County DDS and other such county agencies across the state. The pair won an award last year from the Ohio Self Determination Association for their advocacy work, specifically in making transportation more affordable for those with disabilities.

"It's the best job in the world," Mairose said.


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Opening Doors to Dignity

We promote equal access for people with physical disabilities to services, transportation, buildings, businesses, stores, and services.

We advocate that people with physical disabilities should receive the same respect and consideration that able-bodied people receive.

We remove attitudinal and systemic barriers that persons with physical disabilities must handle on a daily basis by educating and talking with able-bodied people.