Activist: 'I would rather go to jail than a nursing home.'

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Ricki Landers wasn’t afraid to get arrested in her campaigns for disability rights.
By Paul Rolly

The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 11/17/2008 09:35:48 PM MST

Click photo to enlargeAn nutrition and exercise consultant, Mark Snow, donates his time to help Ricki Landers, a woman…«12»Ricki Landers wouldn’t hear of it when an organizer of the "Free Our People March" from Maryland into Washington, D.C., asked only those with powered wheelchairs to continue the last 5 miles.

"John said he would push for me," she said, in case she got tired pushing her manual chair.

It was one of hundreds of protests the tireless activist for disability rights either joined or led, often times resulting in her arrest.

"I would rather go to jail than a nursing home," she proclaimed during a protest at the National Governor’s Association in Seattle, Wash., over policies that forced Medicaid recipients into institutions rather than getting care at home.

Landers, in her own words, "graduated" Sunday. She died of liver failure after spending her entire adult life in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis.

"She was on the forefront of arrests," said Barbara Toomer, a fellow activist through Utah’s Disabled Rights Community Action Center (DRAC). "It was a badge of honor."

Landers would show up in Chicago to protest the lack of accommodations for wheelchairs at a major sports arena, or in Columbus, Ohio, to protest the policy against home health care.

"We would shut down entire buildings," said Toomer, "by placing our wheelchairs in the entrances of elevators so the doors wouldn’t close. We wanted the people to know what it was like to be confined."

A champion for child victims of domestic violence, Landers would collect toys and items for youngsters in shelters, then organize parties when the gifts were delivered, said Janalee Tobias, who met Landers through Women Against Gun Control (WAGC).

"She would hold her homemade sign from her wheelchair at gun-rights rallies that said, "I can’t kick a rapist where it counts." She also embroidered in pink a sign that she attached to her wheelchair that said, "Hell on Wheels."

"I’ve never met a more generous person in my life," said Toomer. "If she had a sweater and someone with her was cold, she would give that person her sweater."

Landers was born in Biloxi, Miss., Jan. 24, 1957. She moved to Utah in the 1970s, where she has been an activist for various causes ever since. She is survived by a son, Chris Andrews, and two sisters, Susie Robinson and Sandra McMillan.


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