For This 85-Year-Old, Advocacy Is Every Day of Every Week
Every week is MS Awareness Week for 85-year-old Katherine Wilson.
Wilson, of Nashville, Tenn., doesn’t consider herself an advocate in the sense of meeting legislators or drafting bills. But she advocates for people with MS and other chronic conditions — herself included — all the time.
“It’s just everywhere you turn, there’s something that somebody could do if they would,” she said.
“Mainly I just go on with my life,” she said. When that involves meeting people who don’t know about MS, she fills them in. Her church’s Care Committee, for example, visits people in nursing homes, and she wants them to be educated about the conditions they might encounter. With MS, that means keeping in mind that the disease affects people differently.
When she encounters buildings that aren’t accessible, she finds the person in charge and asks for change — even if she knows full well that the building isn’t covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act due to its age.
Often, the answer is “yes.” Her bank is located in an old building with steps, so she wrote to the regional manager asking for a ramp, and got it.
“I will say this: I am amazed how helpful how people are,” she said.
Wilson’s apartment manager is her next target of persuasion. The building has a ramp, but because it’s not set off in any way, people treat it like a parking spot. She got the manager to agree to at least paint the ramp as a visual reminder not to park there.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘fight,’ but you do have to be assertive to get anything done,” she said.
Wilson, who was diagnosed more than 30 years ago, used to work for VISTA, the federal service program, and before that was a get-out-the-vote activist in local politics. That’s how she learned that often, advocacy boils down to helping people see what resources are available, and encouraging them to get them.
“You’d be surprised by the intelligent, very involved people who do not know how to seek help for themselves and their children,” she said.
“That’s what we’ve got to do: Be sure people know what the source of help is, and how to ask for it.”