Jacqueline A. Speciner, a staunch advocate for disabled people, died of undetermined causes Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 49.
Friends and family described a gregarious and independent woman who didn't let her cerebral palsy get in the way of enjoying life.
"She didn't like the word disabilities, said Phyllis Godwin, who co-wrote Mrs. Speciner's autobiography. "She liked the word challenge. She wanted to let people know they could live on their own."
Mrs. Speciner lived in the Virginia Towers in Towson. Throughout her life, she championed the rights of disabled people, protesting at the downtown McDonald's and Bank of America for better wheelchair accessibility. In 1996, she was one of the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit and won accessibility improvements at the Baltimore Circuit Courthouse.
More recently, she lobbied in Annapolis, demanding that the Rosewood Center, a state residential center in Owings Mills for people with mental disabilities, be shuttered.
"Her two concerns were being put on machines and being put in a nursing home," said her sister, Janice Kelley of Parkville. "She liked to be in control."
In May, Mrs. Speciner was arrested in Washington after demonstrating for better comprehensive care for disabled people. She was released 14 hours after her arrest.
She chanted slogans like "I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home," and "Our home, not nursing home," said Gayle Hefner, a friend of Mrs. Speciner.
Mrs. Speciner worked frequently with the Maryland chapter of ADAPT, a group that promotes service options for disabled people. She also fought for better services from the Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility van and taxi service.
"The Mobility van from the MTA was one of the thorns in her side," Ms. Godwin said. "She wanted her own accessible van, but that never happened."
Lori Baskette, a friend who met Mrs. Speciner about 20 years ago, called her "a strong advocate" for the disabled.
Jacqueline Leimbach was born with cerebral palsy. Growing up in Baltimore, she used leg braces before her condition progressed to the point that she had to use a wheelchair.
As a child, she was once featured on an Easter Seals poster with Baltimore Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti.
Mrs. Speciner attended the William S. Baer School in Baltimore. She met her husband, Neil Speciner, at Camp Greentop, a summer camp in Thurmont for youth and adults with disabilities. They were married for about 10 years, her sister said.
Mr. Speciner, who also had cerebral palsy, died in 1995.
For years, Mrs. Speciner lived in group homes with other disabled adults.
"Jacquie was headstrong and wanted to do everything else everyone did," said Ms. Baskette. "She wanted to be able to be free, to live in her own place. She wanted to have guests, boyfriends and live her life like everyone else does. She wanted to make her own decisions."
Two years ago, Mrs. Speciner moved to her own apartment in Towson, where she had a personal care attendant.
Mrs. Speciner was a gregarious woman, who memorized telephone numbers and birthdays.
Mrs. Speciner self-published her autobiography, co-written with Mrs. Godwin, titled Finally, Dreams Coming True, in 2006. She had hoped to start a business and had recently purchased a computer and fax machine, her sister said.
Memorial services were held Friday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home.
Besides her sister, she is survived by her mother and stepfather, JoAnne Bauer and Paul Bauer of Middletown; three stepsisters and three stepbrothers.