Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Cathy Parr is a longtime constituent, but we had not visited for several years, so when she called and asked for an appointment, I knew it was for something important. Cathy was born with cerebral palsy (CP), which affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP also affected Cathy’s speech, a diagnosis called dysarthria, making what she is saying difficult to understand, but which does not affect her intelligence or comprehension.

Cathy graduated from Falls Church High School and earned an Associates Degree in Word Processing, but her severe disabilities are barriers to finding a job. Cathy is confined to a wheelchair, so trips outside of her home at Merica House in Skyline take a lot of planning and coordination with service providers, such as MetroAccess.

Cathy is a longtime advocate for disability rights — she has testified at the Virginia General Assembly and buttonholed Members of Congress on Capitol Hill about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and remaining limits to wheelchair access.

Cathy likes soft rock, movies, going to museums and concerts and often handles shopping needs for herself and other residents at Merica House. What her disabilities have not dimmed is her zest for life, her positive outlook and her indomitable spirit.

When I greeted her in my office last week, I was not surprised to see her broad smile and twinkling eyes, but I was surprised at her wardrobe — a lovely white lace summer dress, a sparkly tiara, necklace and earrings and a long embroidered sash that read “2022 Ms. Wheelchair Virginia.”

Yes, Cathy Parr won this year’s pageant and is eligible to vie for Ms. Wheelchair America, to be held in Michigan in mid-August.

Her win at the state level provides some limited financial support for the national event, but she must raise several thousand dollars for travel, lodging and assistance of an aide. She has set up a Go Fund Me account, gofund.me/e563e487, to pay for her participation in the national pageant. I’ve already donated and hope you will, too.

Cathy appreciates her friends and family who know her well and treat her as an adult, not talking to her like a child, or ignoring her completely. Cathy also doesn’t mind repeating herself for those who have difficulty understanding what she has to say.

I appreciated that when we started our conversation; we had a lot to talk about, but her animated discussion was hard to understand.

I asked her if we could slow down so I could grasp everything she wanted to say. “Of course” was her response, and we continued our visit with stories about lunches with her Dad at his office downtown when she was little and her Mom’s excitement about the pageant.

Cathy also described her disappointment when she was told by state agencies, “you are too disabled for us to help you find a job.” She decided to find a job where she could be her own boss, and now is an independent consultant for a jewelry company, with her own micro business. Congratulations, Cathy, and good luck at the nationals!

The Art in the Mason District Governmental Center has a new display — large paintings by Sophia, a young teen who has Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down syndrome. Sophia’s colorful paintings include rabbits, lady bugs, flowers and a lion worthy of a “Lion King” poster. My favorite is a very spare pelican — a few black lines on a pink background — but captivating. The small exhibit will be on display at 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, through August 31, 2022.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]