By Tom Holmes
Sixteen Progress Center for Independent Living staff members and friends invaded Counter Coffee at the corner of Madison and Circle on July 11 in the latest in their series of what they call "shop-ins." The Progress Center is an organization that advocates for and supports those with disabilities.
"We are here at Counter Coffee today to do another shop-in to show our business partners here in Forest Park that we, as people with disabilities, have money to spend," said Geovanni Bahena, who is blind and serves as vice president on the Progress Center's board of directors. "By making their businesses accessible, they can create more business."
Richard Schauer, owner of Schauer Hardware Store, said Progress Center members spent close to $1,000 when they held their first shop in at 7449 W. Madison St. several months ago. This is the second shop-in the group has held.
Jayne Ertel, co-owner of Counter Coffee, said herself and her business partner thought about accessibility when opening the shop at 7324 Madison St. They even pasted a disability accessible sticker on its front door to raise awareness.
"We believe accessibility is an important priority when opening a business," Ertel said. "It's the compassionate choice and a smart business move."
Jane Beckett was one of many who dressed in matching, red Progress Center T-shirts. She said the staff at Counter Coffee were great.
"I think sometimes people think that people with disabilities stay at home and watch TV, and that's not true at all," Beckett said. "I think that when we go out and identify ourselves we're showing the reality to the world."
Loree Woodley, a member of the Progress Center who is blind, got a chorus of "amens" from the group by reinforcing the idea that those with disabilities are active in the community.
"Opportunity, opportunity. Why sit at home and be silent when you have the power to speak; you have the power to lead; and you have the power to join with others to do it?! Get busy!" she said.
Gary Arnold, the Progress Center's program director whose diagnosis is dwarfism, added that the shop-in strategy helps raise awareness in the community about the importance of accessible entrances, as well as the visibility of the Progress Center.
"We're going on 28 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, yet people with disabilities are still partially invisible," he said. "It's important that we do this on a regular basis to show that we are engaged and participants in the community."