Story Behind Viral Photo Better Than You Think

 

Dan Garringer_Viral Image

McDonald’s employee Kenny helps Dan Garringer with Meal

Chicago, IL (September 25, 2015) – The full story of the man pictured in a photo that went “viral” this week is even more touching than you might imagine. The snapshot posted to Facebook by a customer showed McDonald’s employee Kenny helping Dan Garringer cut and eat his food. Many news outlets reported that Dan ordered his food then requested some help from Kenny, who promptly closed his till at the busy Union Station restaurant and helped Dan eat his meal. More than 1 million people have liked and shared the photo on social media, with many commenting about Kenny’s compassion and kindness. Kenny was given special recognition by the owner/operator of his McDonald’s franchise.

What many of those commenters don’t realize is that this photo speaks volumes to those who know the story of Dan’s life. Dan has cerebral palsy and has strived his entire life to live as independently as possible as a participating and valued member of his community.

“People with disabilities are just like everyone else.  We love life and being part of our community.  We go to restaurants, stores, the movies and coffee shops and take Metra and public transportation to be able to experience life as everyone else does,” Dan said. “I know that Kenny is getting all of the credit, but, in my mind, he is representing all of the employees at the Union Station McDonald’s. They are wonderful, caring people who make me feel that I am just like everyone else, and they do not treat me like I am a person with a disability…they treat me like I am just Dan, someone that loves McDonald’s fries.”

In 1993, Dan and his wife Clarina – who passed away last year – moved in a group home where UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago can provide the support and services he needs. UCP Seguin is an affiliate of United Cerebral Palsy, a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities.

Dan spent his childhood with his family but moved into a nursing home as an adult, where he met and married his wife. For years he was told he was “too handicapped” to work. But after he connected with UCP Seguin, he worked with a case worker to pursue a writing career. For more than a decade, he wrote a column for his local newspaper Suburban Life called “The View from Here.” Using just a thumb and forefinger on one hand, Dan wrote about human potential and advocated for people with disabilities to be fully included in life – concepts neatly captured in this one image.

“Dan often wrote about experiences very much like this…and many times the opposite of this, as he was faced with discrimination, insults, and worse,” said Jim Haptonstahl, Executive Vice President of UCP Seguin “He has been overwhelmed by the reaction to this story. But he’s good with it, if it promotes greater acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in society.”

United Cerebral Palsy and its affiliates such as UCP Seguin advocate for that greater acceptance and inclusion, providing the services needed to ensure that people like Dan have the care, education, employment, housing and other opportunities they need.

“Every one of us has certain challenges,” said Jim. “Dan’s challenges mean he sometimes needs a little help from his fellow community members. Kenny gets that. And, that’s cool.”

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About UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago

Seguin of Greater Chicago is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit human services agency dedicated to enriching the lives of people with disabilities. Providing programs and services from birth to old age, UCP Seguin helps children and adults with disabilities achieve their potential, advance their independence and act as full members of the community. Its programs include innovative training and education, family support, employment and life-skills training, residential services, and foster care. For more information, visit www.ucpseguin.org.

 

Facing the Day with Dignity

Today is the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark legislation guaranteed increased access for people with disabilities in almost every facet of community life. The doors to full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities opened metaphorically and literally in many cases.

11JE04GDAs an organization which serves and supports people with a broad range of disabilities and their families, UCP is keenly aware of the profound difference this singular act made in the lives of so many people – whether they realize it or not.

 

At the 25 year mark, there now exists an entire generation of people with disabilities who have matured into adulthood under the legal protections of the ADA. They expect accessible entrances to public building, wheelchair ramps and curb cuts, closed-captioning and sign language interpreters, and accessible public transportation options. And, for 20-somethings without disabilities, these accommodations have become a part of their consciousness as well. Even if they don’t experience disability personally, many people benefit from the changes brought about by the ADA. Just think of the young mother with a stroller who no longer has to deal with high curbs at each crosswalk.

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However, there are still physical and attitudinal challenges to overcome and advocates are still needed. Every year, investigations are open and lawsuits are filed over issues of ADA compliance. And, every year, government officials, disability experts, lawyers and judges debate the meaning and application of various provisions in the law. Are the drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft independent contractors, not necessarily bound by the ADA? Are service animals always allowed in public school classrooms no matter the circumstances? What, exactly, do the words “reasonable accommodations” mean?

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Like any other law, we will continue to debate the details and try to adapt interpretation of the now decades-old language to a rapidly changing landscape. However, we think that the true accomplishment of the ADA will not ultimately be judged by changes to transportation, education, or access to a local public library. The real victory to be claimed by the disability advocates and allies who worked for the law is the opportunity it provides for people with disabilities to face each new day with dignity that comes with full equality.

 

Regardless of the tactics it employs, the law explicitly states that:

 

“Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society…

 

It makes the unequivocal statement that in the eyes of Congress, representatives of “We the People,” people with disabilities are people, first and foremost, as well as full citizens of the United States. It is a recognition that the aspects of our society which prevent a person with a disability from being fully able to participate need to be addressed and Congress intends to provide a “…national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” It is the law of the land and confirmation that people with disabilities should never again have to accept anything less than opportunities provided to their peers.

Comedians with Disabilities Come Together to Break Down Barriers

Twenty five years ago, before the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there likely would have been physical barriers in clubs and theaters, challenges at airports and in hotels or other issues that would make it difficult, difficult if not impossible, for Michael Aronin, Shanon DeVido, Tim Grill, and Mike Murray to mount a full-fledged comedy tour.

In 2015, accessibility in public places has improved and with it the attitudes of many toward people with disabilities such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and spinal muscular atrophy. However, for many who don’t have a close friend or family member with a disability, there are still misconceptions and a lack of understanding. Employers can still be reluctant to hire people with disabilities, especially in the entertainment industry where there is a perception that audiences won’t respond well.

So, the comedians set out on a mission to bridge the gap with laughter. Wicked wit forged from a lifetime of dealing with adversity, No Comic Left Behind smashes stereotypes with every joke: people with disabilities are really no different from you and I. Set-ups on relationships, jobs, and family come with punch lines about wheelchairs and the underrated benefits of being deaf.

“Comedy is a great way to break down that barrier that people often have when they’re talking with people with disabilities,” said Shannon DeVido.

The comedians have long understood that laughter is the best medicine. Michael Aronin, who nearly died at birth and now has cerebral palsy, uses humor to coach audiences toward their career goals as a motivational speaker. And, Tim Grill was born with spina bifida, going through thirteen surgeries to enable him to walk. Rounded out by experienced performer and wheelchair user Shannon DeVido and Mike Murray, who was deaf until the age of 40 when Cochlear implants brought him into the hearing world, each comic is eager to raise awareness about disability.

Collectively, performing under the banner of No Comic Left Behind, the quartet is determined to follow their mission across the country in clubs, theaters and universities. Their ultimate goal is to expose as broad of an audience as possible through, raising awareness about the inherent abilities of people with disabilities. Once the audience is laughing, it becomes much easier to talk about the serious stuff and make people think about what they can do to better include people with disabilities in everyday life.

“Think about it,” said Tim Grill. “We can win over 100 or more people with each show just by being funny – which is something we do on daily basis anyway. Then those 100 people go back out into the world feeling a lot less uncomfortable around people with disabilities and help spread the love. They’ll be more likely to think about accessibility and inclusion and more likely to have some understanding of the next person with a disability that they meet.”

 

For more information about No Comic Left Behind, check out their website!

You can also watch a short video featuring the comics of No Comic Left Behind on UCP’s Youtube Channel!