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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jesus Christ, We're Screwed

The title of this blog entry is a direct quote from Josie Byzek, writer for New Mobility. This is what Ms. Byzek thought after watching the 22 minute clip from CSPAN when Obama spoke about the 19th Anniversary of the ADA. Sadly I think Ms. Byzek is correct. Obama's speech was a bitter disappointment. This speech was never going to make the national news and was uttered at the end of what USA Today characterized as a "tough day" for the president. Regardless, I expected Obama to realize who he was speaking to--the men and women that crafted the ADA and contemporary disability rights activists--and express a deep understanding of this legislation and its checkered history. What Obama delivered was boiler plate, utter and total crap that would go over great with people that knew nothing about disability. However, Obama's audience knew all about disability, a fact he was aware of as he pointed out the presence of Tammy Duckworth, David Paterson and other prominent people with a disability. How these people reacted to Obama's speech I do not know. I sure wish I was present. But like Byzek, I am angry and cannot help but conclude we are indeed screwed.

People with a disability are screwed because Obama relied on antiquated stereotypes and penchant to use his father-in-law as proof he knows all about disability. If Obama had any real insight, he would not portray his father-in-law as a super cripple, a dehumanizing characterization I reject as do others with a modicum of common sense. Worse yet, most of the speech was devoted to a time "long ago" when discrimination was rampant. "Long ago" was pre 1990 when the ADA was signed and the problem of disability rights was taken care of. Gee, this is news me as I have not nor have I ever felt equal to my peers that are bipedal. In fact I feel decidedly repressed every time I leave my home and try to find something as exotic as an accessible bathroom where I can take a piss.

Obama did not mention the ADA Restoration Act. I guess this would have been hard to explain and is further evidence he misjudged his audience. One aspect of his speech was clearly not well received. He spoke about stem cell research, signing the Reeve Act and health care. Laudable goals but anyone with a modicum of knowledge should know better than to bring up Reeve among a group of disability rights activists. Reeve is despised by many disability rights activists and in my estimation set back disability rights by a decade or more. Reeve message was simple, he wanted to be cured. Good for him but this desire ignored the hard battles won by disability rights activists and belittled those that had no interest in cure and instead sought to live their life free of bigotry and ignorance.

Perhaps I am being too critical of Obama. When trying to get elected he said and did all the right things as they pertained to disability. Since elected, another man has emerged, one I am learning how to dislike. What did I get out of Obama's speech?Obama wants to cure crippled people, hence he talks about Reeve and better medical care. At no point is any mention made that most people with a disability are uninsured and cannot afford health care. When obstacles are encountered in the post ADA land of nirvana the super cripple will overcome and persevere. How does he know this? Obama's father-in-law woke up early and made sure he had time to button his shirt and still get to work on time. He even struggled to walk up the steps of his home with two canes. Some how I think this was the least of his problems. Obama's words were not inspiring stuff but damaging stereotype. As Obama spoke I wondered what happened to his support for the Community Choice Act? This surely would have helped his father-in-law. No mention of this legislation was made, legislation he now supports in theory but it is off the table when talking about health care reform. Obama did not say a word, not one, about the current rate of unemployment among people with a disability. When the ADA was passed 19 years ago the unemployment rate was 70%, today it is 66% Surely we can do better in almost two decades.

Since Sunday I have been very cranky. I miss my son who is in China as part of the People to People program. It is getting hot (I detest the heat) and cannot afford to replace my central air conditioner that broke at the end of last summer. I am angry about the lack of interest in the anniversary of the ADA. Sorry, but 22 minutes on CSPAN does not constitute a major investment of the President's time. I am worried Obama is listening and enamored with people like Peter Singer who want to get the maximum "bang for their buck" when it comes to health care reform. Having a disability is not cheap and this cannot help but have a negative impact on the lives of people such as myself and others who may be perceived as an expensive burden not worth investing in. Most of all I am angry almost 20 years after the ADA was passed I still cannot leave my home without thinking about whether I can get into a bathroom, find a spot to park my car, navigate the aisle of the supermarket or a restaurant, encounter someone that thinks "its so good to see you out", or others who assume I have nothing better to do than answer silly questions about my disability because they are curious. This was what the ADA was supposed to ameliorate. It is why I am angry, hot, and unhappy. Today is a day I do not respect my fellow humans.


FridaWrites said...

I will try to dig up some footage of the Obama speech--I'd be interested in watching. My sense is that you're right--people often tell me that I'll have no trouble with access at a certain place because of ADA, but that takes some gentle education for those who don't yet know (I mean people who are on my side and who would be upset by barriers but are still learning the reality). Today driving to the doctor's office I looked at every business I could.

Maybe half didn't have disabled parking and a quarter I wouldn't be able to get into--no curb cut. Many of these are smaller businesses, but not all by any means--and some could have easily removed barriers. That doesn't even include places I can't get into once I get up the curb--such as the video store where there's a tight turn with an inner door, or the dentist, where there is a tight entryway and the back entrance isn't properly ramped.

And healthcare--yes, completely inadequate or nonexistent for so many. How many people could have been helped for the amount of money Christopher Reeve spent on attemptig a cure? Of course a lot of that was probably from personal money rather than just insurance, but there was a Reader's Digest article on a paralyzed surgeon--he continues to do hours of rehab a day at a facility in addition to his work. This is quite costly.

william Peace said...

Frida, Patricia Bauer has a link to the Obama speech on her website. As Mary Johnson pointed out in her book Make Them Go Away, ignorance with regard to access is no excuse. The lack of access is willful ignorance. I for one am tired of hearing how "the building is grandfathered in" and exempt from the ADA. I hear this all the time at schools where I teach and even the public school my son attends. The fact this is wrong not relevant to those pinching pennies and discriminating.

Reeve was a sad case. He lived near me and we crossed paths more than once. Although I did not know him personally, it seems to me he was in denial about his disability. That is his ego could never wrap around the fact he was not the same man socially, part of an stigmatized underclass. He thus surrounded himself with acolytes who genuflected at his views. His ultimate goal was a good one but he insulated himself and never understood disability. And yes he wasted a pile of money as well as an opportunity to make a difference.

FridaWrites said...

I also hear the "grandfathered in" defense a lot. My response is, "no, no you're not!," though I don't know how much that sinks in. I don't understand why people think that. Readily achievable barrier removal was a mandate.

Becs said...

I'm sorry but not surprised at the President's glossing over of the ADA and issues that persist.

You have my deepest sympathies on the death of your central A/C. Have you considered just a window unit for the room(s) you use most?

I was at the Christmas Tree Shop today and portable air conditioners for $350, which sure beats what a heating & cooling company would want.

william Peace said...

Becs, I wish I could use one of those window units. The windows I have make that impossible as does the layout of my house. What I want to know is why is impossible to get anything repaired these days. Remember repairmen once repaired appliances and other major household units

Frida, People are shocked and pissed off when I explain a building is not grandfathered in. The instances of grandfathering in a building are exceedingly rare and restricted to historic buildings. Do you think people are just dumb, non-compliant, cheap, don't care or a combination of the above?

FridaWrites said...

I honestly think that to a lot of small business owners it just doesn't occur to them that it's their responsibility to make sure there is access. I wrote in my own comments section today that I think the Chambers of Commerce (yanub also suggested county extensions) should educate their members. To a lot of businesses, it's always someone else's responsibility and they just don't think about it or believe that if it does apply to them someone will tell them exactly what to do and hold their hand through it.

I also think a lot of people may just believe, "oh, we're just not going to have a lot of wheelchairs come through," which obviously becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My husband requested my dentist's office get a better ramp for the back door (there's no way you can get in the front door, two tight turns)--I think he's very willing--he has a lot of health issues himself and I've been to him since I was 3 or 4. But I think they didn't know where to begin--so they had done something themselves, but it just wasn't stable. So telling businesses how to get places ramped, what they have to do could help.

I'm sure for many places it is a lack of caring/apathy but I think many others would change if they knew where to begin. With some places, it does seem more willful/thoughtless. At one Barnes and Noble near us, the mall recently took out some of the disabled parking, even though it was needed and this brings them out of compliance. I'm sure they did this because the places weren't 100% used all the time--even though they were often completely full when I went.