There ought to be a plaque with her name, right by the door.
No one goes into the alcove unless they need it, and most don’t. Skyway pedestrians go up and down the steps and through the door. But if they ever ended up in a wheelchair, it wouldn’t be so easy.
That’s when they’d be grateful for Audrey Benson.
The alcove has a tiny elevator that makes one of the shortest trips in the city. For the disabled, that may as well be a hundred stories. It was the first elevator to deal with the changes in elevation that run through the skyway system.
Benson lived with cerebral palsy and knew what stairs meant for a wheelchair. She had a novel way to make the problem clear to others.
Billy Binder, an aide to then-Mayor Don Fraser, was a staff person on the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. The committee “got the idea of putting City Council members in wheelchairs and asking them to negotiate the skyways. Blindfolded them and said ‘good luck.’
“They were rolling along and came up to a stairway, and one of them said ‘Now what do we do?’ And Audrey said ‘I’ll tell you.’ ” A public-private partnership got the elevator installed.
Benson went on to work for accessibility on mass transit. Beeps from those wheelchair lifts would be music to her ears.
“As soon as we had a sign outside saying the elevator was finished, she was there,” said her pastor, the Rev. Don Portwood of Lyndale United Church of Christ.
“She had a phenomenal sense of humor; she was just mischievous. A fireball! ‘Why be normal?’ could have been her motto.”