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Handicapped advocacy group circulating petition to support local businesses slapped with ADA lawsuit
Happy Wheelers of Manteca member Brad Peters holds a petition during Saturdays monthly meeting held in the social hall of the United Lutheran Church. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Joanne McNabb has never had a problem getting her wheelchair into a Manteca business.

Even when the front doors weren’t exactly the friendliest, all it took was a quick phone call to the business owner and they were out front doing everything in their power to make the accommodations necessary so that their handicapped guests can enjoy the same privileges as any other patron or shopper.

McNabb knows this. And that’s part of the reason why as a member of the Happy Wheelers – a group of local residents that get around town on motorized scooters and advocate on behalf of the handicapped – she’s working to make sure that the stain of the lawsuit tornado that Carmichael-based Americans with Disabilities Act advocate Scott Johnson has brought with him during his blanketing of descriptive litigation doesn’t fall back on the very people who have had no problems finding workarounds for access that while it hasn’t always been the best, does exist if it’s approached from the right perspective.

“This is a man that doesn’t represent our interests going out here in the community that we live in and he’s giving all of us a bad name,” said McNabb – one of the active Happy Wheelers that was on hand at the group’s annual barbecue Saturday at the Northgate Lutheran Church. “People confuse us with him and we’re against what it is that he’s doing. We want to get the word out that he doesn’t stand for what we stand for and what he’s doing is bad for the businesses and this community as a whole.”

‘Friend, not foe’

Odds are you’ve seen Brad Peters jamming around somewhere in Manteca at some point.

While he has a vehicle that he can use to get around and Manteca’s municipal bus system is also an option, Peters, given the right conditions and enough time, would rather take his high-powered wheelchair capable of hitting speeds of 10 miles per hour and able to climb nearly anything that stands in his way.

But he’s been getting some strange looks lately.

Armed with a teal folder full of hundreds of signatures, Peters has made it his mission to campaign against Johnson and the campaign that he views as a slap in the face for handicapped people that actually have to live in the communities that he targets.

People are gun-shy, Peters says, and when they see him pulling up to the door they cast a wary eye. Some make comments and some close the door.

“I tell them, ‘friend, not foe,’” Peters said. “I’m out there trying to help the businesses and this thing has people afraid that it’s going to cost them everything.

“He comes into a town like Manteca and files these lawsuits making all of these claims yet we live here and have never really had to deal with any of these issues – when we do have a problem, we talk to the city or the business and it gets taken care of. It would seem to me like if you aren’t from a community you shouldn’t be able to come in and file all of these lawsuits the way that he is – that just shouldn’t be possible.”

‘I understand why’

The UPS truck had already passed Peters when it spotted him, and the driver – peering out of the open door – gave him a long, hard stare.

And then he pulled into the middle turn lane and slowed down to a crawl while he waited for Peters to catch up.

“Are you the guy who’s going around filing all of these lawsuits,” asked the man in brown. “No, I’m out here trying to gather signatures and stop him. We’re against him too.”

No matter how many of those scenarios take place – you’re not going to hear the discrimination come out of Brad Peters’ mouth.

At the end of the day, he says, he understands why people are reacting the way that they are. That’s why he’s on the mission that he currently finds himself on – fighting to do whatever he can to show that the group that has helped give him a social outlet among people who know what it’s like to be handicapped fights right alongside them.

“This man doesn’t represent us or stand for what it is that we stand for,” he said. “That’s what’s frustrating – knowing that he’s going around out there and making money when we’re the ones that have to go around Manteca and get mistaken for this guy after the fact.

“I don’t want to see these businesses shut down – a lot of them are my friends and they’re good people when you let any of them know that something needs to be looked into. That’s not what we’re about.”