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Crystal Evans fights for equal access on the South Shore

The Patriot Ledger - 8/1/2019

NAME: Crystal EvansAGE: 37HOMETOWN: Concord, New Hampshire.

IN THE NEWS: As one of the founders of ACCESS and an advocate for people with disabilities on the South Shore

NOW YOU KNOW: Evans is a mother first, spending her time building gigantic dollhouses and exploring around MBTA subway stations for fun with her 9-year-old daughter Sophie, who is diagnosed with autism. HER STORY: Advocacy came to Crystal Evans at an early age.

As a young child growing up in New Hampshire, where she attended school at the church her family attended, Evans was distraught to see children who didn't attend the school being treated differently at church activities. She she did something about it.

"They were often left out," Evans said. "They didn't know people as well because they weren't with us all week. I always made sure the new kids were welcomed. I just wanted to make sure that everybody was included."The advocacy that is now central to Evans' life came much later, after a near fatal car crash in 2001 and a period of homelessness three years later.The crash left her with a brain and spinal cord injury. Some 18 years later, she still lives with a neuromuscular disease and mitochondrial myopathy that that makes it impossible for her to get around without a wheelchair."I saw how easy it was for me to fall through through the cracks of the system healthcare wise, and this is one of those things that can happen to anybody," Evans said. "Having a disability and something that is immediately life-changing. I had to relearn a lot after the brain injury. It wasn't easy, especially since I was up against a health care system that didn't make anything easier."Three years later, she left New Hampshire while homeless in search of better healthcare. Before finding a home in Somerville, she bounced around 14 shelters in the greater Boston area and spent some nights in the streets of Harvard Square over a period of 13 months.Despite being homeless and suffering from a genetic muscular disease, Evans says she kept advocating. She led talks about homelessness and healthcare at in the Boston area, spoke out about housing issues in Somerville and volunteered at Children Hospital'sRonald McDonald Hospitality Homes."I was advocating while homeless," Evans said. "I was doing a lot of public speaking on homelessness and health care issues."

Evans moved to Hall Avenue in South Braintree in 2012 after finally finding a home that she could fully renovate to fulfill her medical needs. In 2015, she gained national attention when she was caught on video using her wheelchair and a shovel to clear piles of snow that had left a South Braintree sidewalk inaccessible for people with disabilities. Last year, she founded ACCESS -- Advancing Community inClusion & Equality on the South Shore -- with a group of people she met on the streets of South Braintree who were also fighting against the same issues. She also serves on the OneCare Implementation Council and co-chairs the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath'sDisability Partnership.

Evans says that she is now advocating for changes to healthcare policy and insurance regulations. Also, with ACCESS she is advocating for better sidewalks, more access to curb cuts in Braintree and improving lifts on MBTA shuttle buses that don't work.

Evans says what keeps her working on advocacy, often against seemingly insurmountable odds, is a need she feels to keep others from going through the same experiences she had. She also wants to make sure that everyone is included and receives equal access overall. "I've just learned that my own life experiences can help others by preventing situations for them and advocating for changes in the system, so that others don't have to go through the same experiences," she said.

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(c)2019 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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