Mapping Georgetown: Rose Park Neighbor’s Heroic Work for Access


It’s that spring time of year again – time to celebrate the reopening of Rose Park as a neighborhood favorite spot for fresh air and warm weather camaraderie. But, sometimes, the deeper stories of our gathered neighbors catch our eye.

At first glance, this Mapping Georgetown story from Nancy Flinn pays homage to the joys of seeing friends and neighbors and their dogs frolicking at Rose Park. But Nancy’s inspiring back story — a heroic fight for universal access for the disabled — helps give depth to our understanding of why Rose Park can be such a special place.

Nancy Flinn’s Mapping Georgetown Story:

Nancy Flinn’s map-story. Courtesy Mapping Georgetown.

 

Back when, I walked alone past Rose Park and would see the same scores of happy people with their dogs, I wanted to be one of them. Winston and now Dewey helped make that happen, along with many Rose Park forever friends. We love Rose Park [heart emoji.]

But, why is Nancy’s backstory so inspiring?

The widow of Rick Douglas, one of the great and early leaders of the movement to adopt the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the 1990s, Nancy Flinn is a powerhouse in her own right. She single-handedly engaged the media on the campaign and helped secure coverage of the battle over disability access in the earliest days. Later, during the controversy over whether to portray President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s disability more openly in the FDR Memorial, Flinn helped publicize the need to embrace rather than shun FDR’s use of a wheelchair.

Here is an oral history given by Nancy Flinn to the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Nancy Flinn’s Oral History Provided to the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee:

FDR Memorial presenting President Roosevelt in wheelchair. Courtesy FDR Memorial, Mapping Georgetown.

Nancy Flinn, former media coordinator and widow of  Richard Crosby Douglas (executive director of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities from 1991-1998), reflects on the history and legacy of the disability advocacy that shaped the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C.

…My husband Rick Douglas was asked by the first George Bush, to be the executive director of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in Washington, at the end of 1990, just when the ADA was starting to be implemented. And, Rick’s job was to get the business community and the disability committee in all 50 states together to make the law work for people. So that’s what got me here. He used to describe me as his “unreasonable accommodation….”

My name is Nancy Flinn. And I came to Washington in 1990 for the signing of the American’s with Disabilities Act. Justin Dart, who was instrumental, having asked me to do some public relations media outreach, get the press online with what was going on. I was there then. My husband who was then a director of rehab in Vermont, was asked by Justin to present why he would be a good director of the president’s committee and he was hired out of 10 applicants and came to Washington in January, 1991. 

My business was doing media outreach relations for various non-profits. I had actually started just volunteering and doing it pro bono for the President’s Committee. And then I went and was hired by United Cerebral Palsy Associations where we created the ADA Report Card on America which took 14 cities and teams of people from each city to go out and rate their city for access, the first phase of the ADA, and it was quite remarkable. 

The findings: people couldn’t get into their public libraries, couldn’t cross the street, or enter a store, even an inch or two might have been the Berlin Wall in terms of getting access. After working with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Awareness for United Cerebral Palsy Associations, I was hired by the National Organization on Disability, to put a spotlight first on Jenny Thornberg’s work to go get people into churches because they had not been covered by the ADA and then she did a wonderful job doing that and I worked with her to get some media coverage.

Probably my best memory, I also did a lot of pro bono work to get the awareness around the protests [concerning] the FDR Memorial — why it wasn’t a good idea to present the one hero who had a disability not [actually] having his disability made aware to the general public. So, I did press releases and press conferences at the site.

Probably my best piece of work was in 1993. My husband was speaking about ADA and we were coming from North Carolina through Dulles toward Allentown, Pennsylvania where we were having supper with 350 people who were there waiting and at Dulles, they said to Rick, you can’t fly because you can’t walk up and down the aisle yourself.  So you’re not allowed to fly — and in this day-and-age, we would probably be shot –but he said “get me on the tarmac to the foot of the plane,” and he sort of bounced out of his wheelchair onto the steps of the plane using his arms. I took a picture. We landed in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I called Associated Press and it got coverage all over the country — that the president’s envoy celebrating the ADA was denied boarding because he couldn’t walk unassisted. That was probably, the biggest, best awareness that I did.  It was in the Herald Tribune. It was all over the place, globally.

For the entire oral history story from Nancy Flinn on Sound Cloud, go here.

You can see Nancy and her long-time partner, Dick Weiss, with their dog Nellie, out and about at Rose Park.  Thank you, Nancy, for being such an incognito hero!

To learn more about the Mapping Georgetown project see https://georgetowner.com/articles/2021/07/19/marilyn-butlers-vision-for-mapping-georgetown/.

To submit your Georgetown recollections to Mapping Georgetown go to www.mappinggeorgetown.com  or visit the Georgetown Public Library to pick up a physical map-story form to fill out.

Marilyn Butler can be reached at: marilyn.butler@gmail.com.

 

 

tags

One comment on “Mapping Georgetown: Rose Park Neighbor’s Heroic Work for Access”

  • Diana Chesterfield says:

    Nancy is everybody’s HERO!! She and her husband, Rick Douglas, approached Nordstrom and we worked on diversity in advertising, employment, and customer service as the ADA was being implemented. She is one of the most amazing people that I have the great privilege to call my friend for many years.
    Diana Chesterfield
    NORDSTROM
    Corp. HR Director (Ret.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.