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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

White Castle Misses the Point

A news report coming out of Minneapolis St. Paul caught my eye this morning as I ate my usual boring but healthy breakfast. On the surface, the report is a supposedly supportive story about a woman that was turned away from White Castle. The woman in question, Ariel Wade, was not turned away from the front door or refused service inside the well-known hamburger chain. Ariel Wade was refused service when she appeared in her electric mobility scooter at the drive through window. Not surprisingly, she was turned away because it is well established policy that drive through windows are for licensed motor vehicles only.

What the story in the Minneapolis St. Paul Tribune by James Eli Shiffer is about has nothing to do with disability rights. The subtext, what is not stated, is obvious: ain't it a hoot to think about some lady in an electric scooter trying to get White Castle hamburgers past midnight and within sight of the State Capital. Better yet, Ariel Wade is "madder than fish grease" that White Castle staff refused to fork over burgers to her in the drive through. Ariel Wade refused to be bought off with free meal vouchers despite the fact she is a former exotic dancer and until recently worked selling bingo tickets at a bar. Ariel Wade claims the fact she was refused service is evidence that the White Castle policy discriminates against disabled people that cannot drive. Based on some 249 replies to this story the general public thinks Ariel Wade is nuts, one of those crazy and unreasonable people that abound when it comes to those pesky cripple people and their "civil rights". One outraged person wrote if Ariel Wade wanted a hamburger so badly she should have called a taxi and gone to the drive through. Many people cited safety issues and wondered what the story had to do with disability rights.

Given the way the story is framed, I too was initially puzzled. Ariel Wade is no saint nor is she a whistle blower. In fact, it would not surprise me if Ariel Wade had a lot to drink the night she showed up at the White Castle. I state this not to slander Ms. Wade but acknowledge the few times in my life I have sought out post midnight burgers had less to do with hunger than the amount of beer I had ben drinking and my impaired judgement. So, buried deep within the story is the real issue. The White Castle "dining room" closed at 11PM but the drive through remained open 24 hours. The only access to White Castle burgers is via the drive through. Thus the argument could be made under the ADA that if a store is open 24 hours it must be made accessible during that 24 hour period. This is an interesting but unexplored aspect of the ADA. It also has wide ranging implications: any store can be open 24 hours a day but what if only limited access was made available to people with a disability? To me, this is a clear violation of the ADA. I have encountered a similar problem in the past--not at stores but at libraries. During exam periods the library had extended hours and in many cases the only accessible entrance was closed. Security was supposed to have a key but that damn key was elusive or its existence a total mystery. The point is Ariel Wade has raised an interesting legal question pertaining to the ADA. Sadly it is framed in way that is designed to prompt outrage, a gut reaction, and no thought. A passing glance of this story reinforces the antiquated notion that people with a disability are unreasonable and narcisstic. The reality as I know it is quite different and yet another opportunity to discuss the civil rights of people with a disability has been hopelessly skewed.

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