Joann was diagnosed with MS on December 12, 1993. As she wanted to understand more about this disease, she began volunteering at the Greater New England Chapter in October 1994. For her dedication to parenting Joann was recognized as the Mother of the Year in 1997. In 2000, she was honored as Chapter Volunteer of the Year for her outstanding volunteer efforts. In 2001, Joann joined the Government Relations Committee and has been the Co-Chair since 2008. She also joined the Waltham Disability Services Commission in September of 2001 and was appointed Treasurer in January 2008.
As a committed advocate, Joann has worked relentlessly to improve public access for citizens in Massachusetts. A new branch of the bank she uses was built about 2 miles from where Joann lives in Waltham. The first time she went to enter the bank she discovered there was no automatic door opener and was frustrated by trying to get into this new building. Joann was unable to reach the door handle to open it from the seat on her scooter. “I felt like a dog waiting for its owner to let me in”.
She went to the Waltham Disability Services Commission meeting and asked about the bank not having an automatic button, only to be told that power door openers are not required, and there was nothing she could do about it. “That was the wrong thing for someone to tell me. I then went to the MS Society and began to find out what I could do to get things changed”.
Joann spearheaded this project and was instrumental in getting the Greater New England Chapter involved to propose a change to the Massachusetts building code. This amendment would mandate the installation of power door opener systems for all new construction and buildings undergoing significant renovations. Individuals cannot fully partake of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship if they are unable to get through the door.
Through Joann’s relentless efforts, she and other advocates presented the proposed change to the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board Subcommittee on July 28, 2010. Exactly a year later on July 28, 2011, the Architectural Access Board (AAB) Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the building code, mandating the installation of power door openers at one public entrance for new and renovated buildings. This amendment to the building code must now be approved by the full AAB Board and then presented for comments at regional public hearings.
Joann’s next project was to bring the parking lot of the gym she uses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding handicapped parking spaces. This took over a year, but the accessible handicap spaces are now in place.
Her most recent undertaking is requesting the City of Waltham to repave a sidewalk and add curb cuts near her home so she can get out in her scooter and get to the local restaurant. The sidewalk has several cracks and potholes along with low hanging branches that hit her in the face as she is riding on her scooter.
Joann’s continuous efforts and actions to make communities accessible to all people is confirmation that one person can make a difference. She inspires us all to speak out and make our voices heard.