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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Blatant Discrimination: Who Receives Support and Why

 Yesterday I read a story about Becky Andrews, a blind woman who was blatantly discriminated against  at an Ann Taylor store in Salt Lake City.  Apparently Ms. Andrews likes the clothes Ann Taylor sells. She walked into the store with her guide dog, in harness, and was asked to leave. According to Ms. Andrews she politely explained her dog was a service animal and was legally allowed to enter any public establishment. Her words did not resonate with the employees or the manager she spoke to. In frustration, and I assume anger, she eventually left the store. I share Ms. Andrews outrage. I too have been subjected to blatant discrimination. While I am no longer shocked by people who discriminate against me, I find the experience deeply unsettling. For more about what Ms. Taylor experienced read her blog Cruisn' with Cricket. See her post of June 19, "Finding Lemonade". Link: http://cruisinwithcricket.blogspot.com/

Ms. Andrews story is all over the internet and could go viral. Multiple mainstream news outlets have used her story and she has appeared on a local Salt Lake television news program. A few things have struck me about Ms. Andrews. For example, she is a slender and attractive woman. Her blog has photos of her with her family and guide dog Cricket, a yellow lab. This makes me wonder--is her story of blatant discrimination enhanced by her appearance? Ms. Andrews has also been clear she has no intention of suing Ann Taylor even though she has every right to file a lawsuit--what took place was a serious civil rights violation covered under the ADA. Instead, Ms. Andrews has offered to help educate Ann Taylor employees. In my humble opinion, Ms. Andrews is being far too nice and this too has me wondering. I hesitate to read comments after disability stories--they are routinely horrible and ignorant. However, in this case the comments are 100% supportive. Ms Andrews is the paragon of virtue. She has literally turned the other cheek and has taken the high road. She asked for nothing from Ann Taylor. She will not file a law suit. Her comments exude dignity and grace. As the days have passed Ann Taylor looks worse and worse and Ms. Andrews more dignified. And this too makes me wonder. What if she lashed out in anger? What if she tweeted when she was discriminated against? What if she filed a law suit? What if she appeared at the front of the Ann Taylor with a lawyer and dozens of other blind people?  What if she organized a disruptive protest? Somehow I sincerely doubt all the comments would be supportive. And again this has me wondering. Ed Roberts, a founder of the disability rights movement, believed anger was a powerful and useful emotion. Angry people get stuff done when focused on a constructive goal like access. Where is Ms. Andrews anger? One can be angry and polite. One can use anger to force significant social change. But that is not how society perceives people with a disability. Yes, the thinking goes we are angry. Angry we cannot walk, hear or see. We are bitter and angry because our bodies cannot do what other bodies do without thought or appreciation. We are angry over our physical misfortune. This thinking is so wrong it boggles the mind. I find it hard to fathom how any intelligent person thinks this way. Experience tells me otherwise.

I was also struck that every story I read about Ms. Andrews included a diagnosis. All stories in the main stream press noted she had Retinitis Pigmentosa. I fail to understand why this is an any way relevant to the discrimination she experienced at the Ann Taylor store. Did she need to prove she had a legitimate disability? Noting why she is visually impaired utterly misses the point. Laws protecting the civil rights of people that rely on a guide dog date back to the 1960s. I may be wrong on this point and I am sure Stephen Kuusisto could weigh in with a fascinating history. More to the point, the ADA is now over twenty years old. Ms Andrews has every right to expect that her civil rights will not be violated so long after the ADA was passed. Ms. Andrews and I share the same civil rights as those that can walk and see. No news story I read raised this point. No comment focused on the real issue--the violation of Ms. Andrews civil rights.

One last point. I wonder if the public support for Ms. Andrews civil rights is rooted in the knowledge any so called reasonable accommodation for people who cannot see does not incur a significant cost. Everyone knows ramps and elevators are expensive. Worse yet, they are rarely used. So the thinking goes this is an utter waste of money. No one questions why the lifts and elevators are not used. In my experience maybe one in ten bus drivers know how to tie down my wheelchair. In my experience a locked elevator is a useless waste of space. Locked  alternative access to buildings is also an utter failure. Call bells are not answered. These violations are socially acceptable. No one ever supports me when these fundamental violations occur. My point is not to distance myself from Ms. Andrews and other people who cannot see. Instead I am pointing out that all violations of civil rights must be met with condemnation. The root cause is identical.  Disability rights are civil rights.

9 comments:

Eric said...

I believe i understand your point but perhaps after my comment you will point out the fallacy therein: i don't think that following the letter of the law is always a good thing or even the right thing. Conversely not following a law put in place to protect against discrimination makes the act one of discrimination from a moral point of view. I'm not familiar with the ergonomics of that particular store but can imagine that store employees considered that the dog would rub against clothing merchandise inadvertently, leaving its hairs and smell, which would be highly undesirable, especially to a client who suffers from dog allergies.
While the law should certainly provide assistance to those that need it, this does not mean every form of assistance is acceptable under every circumstance.

william Peace said...

I agree following the letter of the law creates problems unto itself. I see this every time I fly. The application of FAA regulations is spotty at best and in some cases a hinderance. As to your suggestion employees were concerned about dog hair and smell, I have no doubt solutions to this issue abound. This line of reasoning however is dangerous. There is a slippery slope when we start putting restrictions on access. Issues such as safety and being deemed a fire hazard prevented people with a disability from receiving an education or flying on a plane. And one still reads about people with a disability being taken off planes because they are considered a flight risk. Your comments for me highlight even more strongly the inherent problem with the ADA. It is civil rights legislation but it is not perceived to have anything to do with civil rights. Until this changes the law will be poorly understood and not receive the social mandate it deserves.

Becky said...

Well written with much to think and ponder and act on. Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to further dialogue.

william Peace said...

Becky, So thrilled you responded! You ooze class and dignity. Hope you will continue to let people know about your experiences pro and con.

Becky said...

Just had to check back in :) - yes I think we need to be a voice for both! Thanks for your support. and I could connect with your more recent post too.

Becky said...

Just had to check back in :) - yes I think we need to be a voice for both! Thanks for your support. and I could connect with your more recent post too.

william Peace said...

Becky, It is my hope the sort of loneliness I feel will be a thing of that past. I hope that young girl I met reads about disability prejudice and shakes her head in wonder.

Miz Kizzle said...

What happened to Ms. Andrews was wrong, plain and simple.
It was also her right to chose not to refuse to leave the store and be dragged out by mall security, although that might have netted her a nice financial settlement from the owners of Ann Taylor and the company that owns the mall.
I would have chosen the second course, but then I'm an attorney who walks with a cane due to a spinal injury. I don't mind making a scene in the interest of a good cause.
I wonder why it was necessary for Bad Cripple to mention that Ms. Andrews is "slender and attractive?" Aside from his own appreciation of her pulcritude, that is. Would she have been less worthy of having her civil rights honored if she were fat and ugly?

william Peace said...

MizKizzle, I mention Andrews appearance as I think it makes her an even more sympathetic figure. Like it or not physical appearance for women is very important.