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Quadriplegic Performer Wins Right To Play On Boardwalk

November 18, 1986

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ A handicapped woman who plays the keyboard with her tongue for a living has reached an agreement with Atlantic City officials allowing her to continue to accept donations from Boardwalk pedestrians.

Celestine Tate will now obtain a permit that exempts her from from the city’s anti-begging ordinance. She said the agreement will allow her to continue to support her two young daughters without welfare.

Resting on her gurney, Ms. Tate reacted to Monday’s decision with a broad grin and praise for Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Richard J. Williams.

″I’m satisfied, your honor. Thank you, God bless you. You must have children too, huh, judge?″ the 31-year-old Philadelphia woman said.

Ms. Tate is handicapped from a congenital disorder that left her limbs underdeveloped and useless. For the past three years she has earned about $1,500 a week in donations by playing the electronic keyboard by pressing her tongue against the keys.

Last month, after she had accumulated more than 50 summonses, Ms. Tate was convicted in municipal court on 18 counts of violating the city’s anti-begging ordinance and fined $2,000. The city argued that Ms. Tate is a shrewd businesswoman and estimated her annual income last year between $120,000 and $140,000.

She went to court Monday to challenge the constitutionality of Atlantic City’s anti-begging ordinance. But her attorney, Jack Feinberg, and city attorney Matthew Powals reached an agreement to let Ms. Tate apply for a permit to solicit on the Boardwalk as military veterans are allowed to do.

Immediately after the agreement was announced, Ms. Tate said she would return to her regular spot outside Caesars Atlantic City casino hotel, where sympathetic passers-by drop coins and bills into a plastic cup in front of her keyboard.

Powals said both sides agreed to find a location near the spot Ms. Tate currently works that will least disrupt Boardwalk traffic.

Feinberg later congratulated city officials ″for recognizing Celestine’s individual situation. I think that was a major part in ultimately resolving this situation.″

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