Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, June 4, 2011
ADA activist,wildlife photoenthusiastdies at 65

A local photographer and litigious advocate for handicap accessibility in the Florida Keys died Monday at the age of 65.

Michelle Wisniewski was an ardent and often unpopular activist for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sued or threatened to sue more than 20 local businesses and the city of Key West over handicap accessibility issues.

She was president for five years of the Florida-based Association for Disabled Americans, which boasts 441 civil lawsuits filed seeking compliance with the ADA, according to the association's May 2010 newsletter.

It is unclear whether the association will follow through with any pending litigation.

Wisniewski was a wheelchair-bound transsexual who succeeded in gaining handicap accessibility to most Duval Street restaurants, according to the association's newsletter, which named her as an Unsung Hero.

"The original impetus was just to get into places they wanted to visit. But they've gone further than that," the newsletter states in an article about Wisniewski and association Vice President Danny Ruiz. "After realizing what they were able to accomplish, they've come to understand that others will not take on the accusations and impositions required by the litigation. They knew that they would be creating access not for just themselves but for thousands of tourists and other residents of the South Florida area."

Prior to her health problems, which were compounded by emphysema that forced her to use an oxygen tube, Wisniewski was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who earned the Bronze Star, the Air Medal for Valor, the Gallantry Cross and the Combat Infantry Parachute badge, according to the obituary received by The Citizen.

Wisniewski graduated from Georgetown University and later earned a medical degree in Guadalajara, Mexico. She worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist.

In the Florida Keys, Wisniewski was an active member of the Audubon Society, and was well-known for her bird and wildlife photography.

She is survived by two children. A memorial took place Wednesday at Bahia Honda State Park.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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