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One Last, Year-End Look at the Passing Parade of People in the News : Respect for Disabled

December 26, 1985|TIA GINDICK

View has revisited some of the people and places it reported on in the last several months. Among them:

--Hollywood's Masquers Club, which because of declining funds sold its building and moved.

--Jimmy and Ricky Sperry, blinded in an accident 11 years ago, who received cornea transplants in August.

--Balu Natarajan, who triumphed over 167 other youngsters to win the National Spelling Bee in June.

Mary Nemec Doremus still is talking but, she says, the right people just aren't listening.

Doremus is founder and president of the National Challenge Committee on Disability, a Washington-based organization whose goal is "assisting the media in changing the way America perceives individuals with disabilities."

What she wants, she told The Times in July, is to pressure business' top brass to both hire people with disabilities and include them in their advertising. She also wants the media to eliminate those words that create a negative image of a person with a disability. And she wants to see an onslaught of special events and programs that will give the disabled what they need: "role models, role models, role models."

True, she's had no shortage of invitations. She's making the talk-show circuit and has attracted hundreds of letters saying, "We're behind you, Mary." She's been approached with so many requests to head projects that she's overwhelmed. And while all this is wonderful and certainly points out the need, she said, it's just not what she's all about.

What Mary Doremus is about is communicating, turning people on to the cause--so that they initiate the projects, establish the organizations and raise the money. "As a secretary and an administrator, I'm a bust," Doremus said with a sigh. "I don't want to run an organization. I just want the loan of some services, like a jet or some rental cars, so I could go around the country and speak to people. I'm in a place right now where everyone wants me to do everything, but I still can't find the money to do it. It's incredible. After one television show appearance, I got 500 letters, but no one sent money. Today, Challenge has $1,000 in the bank. And from that, I've got pay staff salaries and travel expenses."

The people she wants to speak to: well, talk shows are fine. "But I want to talk to the decision makers, the opinion makers, the ones who influence other people. I want to start with the corporate CEOs, the advertising agencies.

"I want to tell them they're missing a whole group of people, how one of every 12 federal dollars is given to a disabled person or disabled programs. Yet all we're offering are disincentives to a people who want to work. It's so depressing. We need to remove attitudinal barriers to the disabled as well as architectural barriers."

And she doesn't want to waste time with corporate ladders. Not only is the cause too immediate, she said, but she personally doesn't have the energy. Doremus' own disability--a mysterious nervous disorder that so saps her of energy that she can scarcely walk and must get around via wheelchair--is "progressive and progressing," she said.

Unanswered Questions

Yes, she's been back in the hospital since her visit to Los Angeles this summer and nobody knows any more than they did before. Which is nothing.

"But they're amazed at how I'm doing," she said.

So on with life, she said dismissively. And for all her frustrations at the things she can't do, the people she's not seeing--some good things are coming through.

She's been elected president of the National Media Council on Disability, which is comprised of media professionals, disabled and non-disabled people and their advocates. Funded by a grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, its goal is to put together a marketing plan and a speakers forum to present a united coordinated media effort toward continued development of the disability movement and its key issues.

"Wearing the hat of the media council, I'll be very issue-oriented. And under the hat of Challenge, I'll challenge people. Actually," Doremus said, addressing herself to the world in general, it's "my responsibility to get the word out and it's your responsibility to hear us when we speak."

She also joins Lee Iacocca and Paul Harvey as keynote speakers at the Independent Grocers Alliance convention this spring and "that's not bad company."

But Mary Nemec Doremus wants to sit down with that crowd more often. Or, as she declared with typical intensity: "I don't want to percolate up. I want to filter down. Just put me in a room with the people with power and the disabled community will really see something happen."

The National Challenge Committee on Disability is at 1101 15th St. N.W., Suite 206, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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