Dawn Russell doesn’t initially strike you as the type of person you would expect to have been arrested over 25 times with charges ranging from trespassing to disturbing the peace. She is an organizer with ADAPT. ADAPT will say they use civil disobedience and direct action to advocate for people with disabilities, but these feel like too big of words for me.
Basically, they are badasses literally willing to throw themselves under a bus for their voices to be heard. And what are they shouting about? The first ADAPT actions happened around issues of wheelchair access on public transit in Denver in the late ’70s. People with disabilities were stranded in nursing homes, an issue that persists to this day, and people were further isolated because the bus that swung by their place wasn’t wheelchair accessible. The activists, who became known as the “Gang of 19,” laid themselves in the path of an R.T.D. bus and an organization was born.
ADAPT launches two national actions a year. Their modus operandi is to flood a room, a meeting or an office of government with people in wheelchairs. Their intent is to remain until their demands are met. “It’s the real fucking deal,” says Dawn. This often leads to arrests. “I didn’t think my sweet David [her recently passed husband] was paying attention to how many arrests I had. When I got out of jail after an action in Chicago, and we were in real jail there, and I remember getting out and he’s standing there with flowers and balloons and a big sign that read Happy 25th.”