The Montgomery Village resident and real estate agent has been a civil rights activist since moving to the area 60 years ago. In the 1980s, Simon began fighting for accessible housing for people with disabilities.
How did you get involved in civil rights in Washington?
In 1962, I [became] the program director of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. I was their first white member and first white employee. It was a crucial transition time in the city. I [participated] in the March on Washington [and] the Poor People's March.
How did you get started with this issue?
In 1987, I testified [before Congress] in favor of protected-class status for people with disabilities and families with children. I believe I was the only realtor who testified in favor of those changes. Shortly after they became law, my son was in a serious bicycle accident [in 1988]. He broke his neck and became paralyzed from the neck down. It took me a long time to find a place for him to live.
Why was it difficult?
Housing contains architectural barriers that make it impossible for a person with a mobility impairment to go in or out, let alone to bathe in it, to function in the kitchen.
How have things changed?
People with disabilities are surviving injuries they would have never survived 25 years ago. There are more [people with disabilities living] in the community rather than locked up in institutions.
What still needs to change?
We still allow our single-family homes to be built with front porches and steps at every entry. If your neighbor is having a PTA meeting in her home and you [are] a wheelchair user, you can't go to that meeting. ... I am working to establish VisitAbility, which would require every single-family home [to] have one no-step entry, doorways wide enough [for] a wheelchair and a usable bathroom.
-- Rachel Baye