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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cranky Thoughts on the ADA

On July 26, the 20th anniversary of the ADA, I had surgery. This little irony amused me as the hospital presented more than a few physical obstacles. For the past week I have read the few reports mainstream news outlets published about the impact the ADA has had on society. Most of these articles were vacuous and laudatory, devoid of insight or depth. I also read disability rights blogs and editorials. These were far superior but none resonated with me. Sure the ADA has helped legally, the country is physically more accessible yet social prejudice, though different from 20 years ago, is rampant. Since I got home from the hospital I have tried to write about the ADA's 20th anniversary and meaning. Each and every effort I have made has been a dismal failure. How do you sum up 20 years of social change and a hopelessly flawed law in a few paragraphs? After much thought I have come to the conclusion this is not possible. Instead I will address two overwhelming problems people with a disability encounter:

First, unemployment and by extension education. Twenty years ago 70% of people with a disability of working age were unemployed. This figure has not changed by more than a few percentage points since the ADA became the law. Thus in terms of employment opportunities the ADA has been a dismal failure. Why are people with disabilities unemployed in such great numbers? Two reasons stand out: flat out bigotry on the part of employers. If a person with a disability applies for a job and a person without a disability applies for the same job and are equally qualified I would bet 99 times out of 100 the person without a disability will get the job. I call this blatant discrimination. But how does one go about proving this? To date employment discrimination complaints that end up in court invariably end in favor of the employer (as in 98% of the time). The other problem related to employment for people with a disability is that as a group we are poorly educated--only one in four people with a disability has a college education and more than 17% do not earn a high school diploma. Without an adequate education the barriers to employment, that is a living wage, are overwhelming. Add in mass transportation systems remain inhospitable to inclusion and as a result getting to work inherently problematic. Is it an wonder then why so few people with a disability are employed.

Second, the ADA is not in any way thought to be civil rights legislation. Readers of this blog will know the ADA is civil rights education but do your neighbors know this? Does the teacher in charge of educating your child think of the ADA as civil rights education? Is disability rights included in secondary school text books on civil rights movements? Is disability rights part of the curriculum at colleges and universities? How about small or large businesses? Do they perceive the ADA as civil rights legislation or an architectural compliance requirement that must be met to satisfy the federal government? The answer to these questions in my experience is a resounding no. And here is where the ADA has utterly failed--it has made the country physically more accessible but that physical access has not been matched by social change. Exceptions exist--some businesses do indeed hire people with a disability and go out of their way to do so. Some universities are 100% accessible and teach disability studies as part of its core curriculum. These companies and universities are the exception not the rule.

Here is my wish--force people to study, read and look at the history of the disability rights movement in the 1970s. Go to You Tube and look at the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund (DREDF) videos. Watch Judy Heumann assert herself and state "We will no longer allow the government to oppress disabled individuals. We want the law enforced. We will accept no more discussion of segregation". And here comes the best part of Heuman's words: "And I would appreciate it if you would stop shaking your head in agreement when I don't think you understand what we are talking about". Goodness, what bad ass or as I prefer what a bad cripple. Her words resonated in 1977. Her words resonate in 2010. What we need is a asocial revolution--one the ADA was supposed to herald.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People who are not disabled, and do not know anyone who is disabled, have no clue what it is like to try to fit into the world of the disabled - and our problems fitting into their world. Comparing the issues facing the disabled to the 1900s civil rights movement is pretty accurate.

There are many stores, restaurants, public buildings, even hospitals and doctors' offices that I cannot even enter. Once I am in the building, very often I cannot go any further because the front entrance way is too congested and poorly designed. Once past that point, I often cannot go through the store or office because the chairs or display racks are too close together. The bathroom situation is a whole subject just on its own. One place that prided itself on ADA requirements and provided scooters for the disabled did not have an ADA bathroom. Well, technically it was ADA, just the stupid architect didn't take into account the radius it takes to turn a wheelchair or scooter around the corner and into the restroom. I leave a business that is set up so I cannot use it and then I contact management and set out my specific requirements and what the ADA requires.

I hate going to restaurants because the tables are too close together. The servers always want to take whatever mode of mobility you are using, i.e., rollator, etc. and put it away where it is out of the way. Those are my legs and if I need to go to the restroom I am not waiting on anyone to come by and help me -- it is difficult enough to get a drink refill.

We are excluded because of our disabilities because people refuse to accept us as we are and to consider what is necessary for us to be included. There are a lot of military handicapped vets coming back home and they are going to need a lot of help and learn how to function.

The whole subject of parking places, access to elevators and other issues with poor design by "ADA" architects could take up a book.

Another issue that goes with this is that many disabled people are overweight -- not by choice, but because of our health restrictions. Many a person has told me that you wouldn't be handicapped if you lost weight. Wow, I didn't know there were people stupid enough to tell someone that.

I have a website on how to deal with managements and reporting stores and restaurants that are not disability friendly.

Keep on...