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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Great Comment on the ADA

I am not into computer games. However, I do keep up with the gaming industry and play some games. I do this for two reasons: first, I need to be able to communicate with my son. In his estimation I am woefully ignorant but for an "old guy" not too bad when I play Xbox with him. Second, computer games are a fundamental part of of life for college the college students I teach. A working knowledge of computer gaming is required to effectively communicate with them. Given this, I periodically read Xbox magazine (which I dislike) and visit various gaming websites. One such website, Able Gamer, is about not just computer gaming but evaluates how accessible games are to people with a disability. I was struck by A quote I read this morning that perfectly mirrored my views about the ADA. Read the below carefully because it is spot on:

"What the ADA does is gives us a means for making and benchmarking progress over the years. Twenty years from now I hope there's no such thing as an inaccessible subway, or a job that can't be modified for a qualified person who is house-bound, or a cell phone that plays videos without captions. Right now, we in the disability community push for this, and mostly we get backlash. There has not been that significant, pivotal point where businesses and our larger society is saying, 'How dare we think we can create a product or service that is totally unusable for the disabled?" Especially if it's a technology product, because the disabled are probably the group that will reap the highest benefit from it, whether it's an e-reader or a smart phone or a video game console. We still have to change our thinking in America about disabilities. The ADA is there as a backdrop, but we still need a larger social movement or else we are going to end up trying to legislate everything we want.
An important part of equality is the recognition that people deserve real rights beyond legislative concessions. Although the letter of the law is realized, the spirit of the law, inclusion, has yet to be realized. Until that happens, the fight for people with all levels of ability continues."

Backlash--I know all about this. For the last thirty years I have heard people moan and groan about the cost of making various buildings accessible--most notably schools. This backlash is common place. Yet no one thinks about the cost of not making our social environment accessible. We people with a disability deserve rights and those rights need to be recognized and supported. This has not taken place in spite of the fact the ADA is 20 years old--a point well made in the above quote. When there is no backlash against making our social environment accessible to all and our rights, the civil rights of people with a disability, are supported, then and only then will I truly be equal to others. And imagine I read this at a gamer website. There really is hope for the future as I doubt many "old guys" are reading this material.

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.