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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Misplaced Outrage

I mocked the controversy created by the New York Post story about Disney Land. In case you missed it Wednesday Martin has alleged that wealthy Manhattan parents have hired people with a disability with the express purpose of eliminating waiting on line. The fact this story has prompted an extended amount of coverage bothers me. First, we are talking about the NY Post, a tabloid owned by Ruppert Murdock. Not exactly a paragon of journalism. But let's put this aside. Who is outraged? In my estimation people that know nothing about disability. The headlines are about what I expected:

Disney World Scam: Wealthy Moms Rent Disabled Guides to Skip Lines (and Shame Humankind)

How I scammed the Disney World Wheelchair Line System

Disney Probes Sleazy Riders

Disney World Scheme: Entitled Families Hire Disabled Guide to Bypass Lines, Says Report

Yeah No: Rich Manhattan Moms Allegedly Renting Disabled People to Skip Lines at Disney World

I thought this story would have a short shelf life. Now I am not so sure. CNN picked up the story and as expected all Florida based news outlets are discussing it. The fact is this is not news at all. People have been using this scam at Disneyand elsewhere for a long time. Thus this is a new twist on an old story with the perfect villain: uber wealthy Manhattanites. Damn those 1% parents and their children too!

When I read stories about disability scams I shrug. The outrage expressed puzzles me. I have had my civil rights violated in a myriad of ways. For instance, I have been refused entry to restaurants in New York City; no wheelchairs I am told. I have had many a taxi pass me by to pick up a bipedal customer. I have had bus drivers lie to me and say the lift is not working or that they do not know how to use it.  I have had rental companies assure me a car with hand controls is available only to find out the car is "lost" in transit. When such incidents take place non disabled people look away. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to my defense when I suffered gross inequities at let's say an airport. I cannot recall a single person that expressed outrage when I was being denigrated by someone who clearly held power. Hence, I shrug about Disney and the angst expressed. It is misplaced emotion. I wonder where are these people when the school board decides not to put a lift on a bus? Where are these people when the special education budget is cut? Where are these people when Mayor Bloomberg selected an inaccessible taxi of tomorrow? Where are these people when technology for people with a vision impairment is deemed too costly? Where are these people when a new facility is constructed but does not meet ADA requirements? Where are these people? Nowhere to be found and silent. This is bad, a terrible social dynamic. What people say and what people actually do is radically different. This is a giant social problem. Who is too blame? Me and everyone reading these words. This social failure reminds me of the classic film Cool Hand Luke. The brutal guard looks at Luke behind aviator sun glasses, hat pulled down low and states: "What we have here is a failure to communicate".

In addition to a stunning level of ignorance about disability in general, I have an additional concern. As noted in my previous post about the Disney is the emergence of able bodied outrage. Here I refer to a multitude of stories that question what I would classify as a reasonable accommodation for people with a disability. The most well known story about what a treat it is to have a disability pertains to airport security lines. More often than not, people with a disability do not wait on line. We are shuttled off to a different and shorter line. This is a reasonable accommodation and mitigates a multitude of different disabilities. People see this and think oh man you are so lucky. Well I do not feel lucky when I am the very first person on the plane and the very last person off the plane. I do not feel lucky when my wheelchair comes back from the belly of the plane and is damaged. I do not feel lucky when a supposedly trained person asks me to "walk just a little bit". This too is a reasonable accommodation one I find decidedly unreasonable

At issue for me is how do we raise the level of understanding. How do we get all people to think disability rights and civil rights are one in the same? Disability studies has been ineffectual. The disability rights movement has stagnated in recent years. ADAPT demonstrations are utterly ignored by the press. So how do we educate and make the bipedal masses see disability for what it really is? I have no clue. And that is problem number one.


Eric Fischer said...

Part of the answer may lie with discovering what the average experience of disability entails for the disabled population. Population studies targeting for e.g. wheelchair users and looking at both positive and negative experiences.
I'm not in the field of disability so perhaps such studies have been done in the past already.
A national look at (a specific group) might turn up vast differences in experience and give a clue to this conundrum. I feel confident in stating that the experience of a wheelchair user in New York city will be different from a small town in Iowa.
Is there a certain percentage of wheelchair users that feel there is no need for change? And if so, why? Because they are afraid, ignorant, complacent, happy?
I think without a recent study on a national level change will remain elusive.

As I've said on more than one occasion here, other studying other countries, notably Holland which has a vastly different social perspective (and that I am quite familiar with) might offer useful insight (and you can be certain they have done extensive polling and correlation of data) but then again, represents a different culture.
Often critical steps in social evolution are 'non-transferable'.

Eric Fischer said...
Maybe that is the kind of thing needed as well?
This is an interesting read about prejudice especially the comments(you can drop the url into google translate as it is in Dutch):
This video is quite interesting as it addresses European issues of disability:

Moose said...

I have gotten the "can you walk just a little bit" but to be fair to them I am usually holding my cane. While I can walk very short distances I cannot stand around, which is what actually prevents me from going through the regular lines.

On the other hand I wonder if one of the reasons they ask that is because of how many people 'cheat' and use the wheelchairs to get to the front of the line, get up and walk through the detector, then walk off perfectly fine. I have no idea if anyone has ever done any statistics on how many people who request wheelchair assistance are magically healed when they get to the security gate. Most of what I've heard is merely anecdotal.

I'm sorry that you're not finding able people standing up with you in the fight for disability injustice. They do exist, though I admit they're a rare breed.

Before I was disabled, I stood waiting for a bus and watched as a bus passed up a wheelchair rider who needed that specific route. I jotted down the bus ID number and exact time on paper for him (and me) and called to report it. Years later I was thrown off of a crowded bus because "Your cane is taking up too much room in the aisle" - the aisle in which I was standing, because none of the people sitting in the "for handicapped people" seats would get up, and the driver flat out refused to do anything about it (by the bus company's rules he was required to tell people to get up). Not one person on the bus said anything.

When my ability to walk started degrading, a then-friend started encouraging me to get a handicapped placard because "they're the best parking spaces!" By the time I got one I could no longer walk very far or very long, and my "friend" had abandoned me for "not being any fun anymore". I still think she was more interested in the parking than my failing leg.

One of my biggest problems is somewhat ironic -- a lot of the ADA stuff is guided by the idea that "disabled" means a) hearing impaired, b) visually impaired, and/or c) using a wheelchair. This allows things to happen that make absolutely no sense if you don't fit into those cookie cutter molds.

My favorite examples of this include things like handicapped spaces and curb cuts far away from the front door of the business, requiring far more travel than is necessary. Bonus ***hole points for doing that and then making the spots closest to the door "guest parking" or "30 minute parking only!"

I used to work somewhere that did the latter (the guest parking had the closest spaces). I had to fight to get them to convert them to handicapped spaces. Then I had to fight again because the people who cleared the snow in the winter had become used to using those spaces for where they dumped the snow!

Um. Sorry for the long babble.

Unknown said...

On seeing my service dog come out from under the table a guy once said, "Gee, I wish I could bring my dog into a restaurant." I told him he could if he lost his hearing and, while walking in a parking lot,was run over by a car driven by a drunk, sustaining life-long back and spine injuries. Somehow I don't think he wanted to have his dog there under those circumstances.

Yeah, having disabilities is a real hoot.

william Peace said...

Eric, Population studies have been undertaken by social geographers. I am not impressed with the results. Disability is such a garbage can term. My experience is radically different from a person with a profound cognitive deficit or mental illness. People who live in a group home are even farther removed from my experience. Forging an strong alliance of people with disabilities has always been and remains deeply problematic. I wish I had the answer but do not. Your approach is always of interest as it is not Americanist.
Moose, I get the "can't you walk a little bit" far too often. The vast majority who request wheelchair assistance are the elderly. I get this. But when my wheelchair is at the jetway and a straight back has been requested a dozen times I think people should get the idea. I guess the point of my post is the outrage expressed is pointless. Which is more important a parking space or respect for civil rights in terms of employment, education, transportation, etc.
Burton, I have heard people say the same thing when I am with a person that has a guide dog. This is an impressively stupid comment. I think guide dogs are the royalty of the dog world. The perfect match for a dog and human.

Shannon said...

Nondisabled people think we get a lot of perks?

Here's a "perk" of non-disabled people I would like to have: Lots of housing choices. If you need an apartment and are not a wheelchair user (or other mobility impairment that makes it hard to climb steps), you will find many apartments in various price ranges. In my area (and I imagine a lot of other areas) I estimate maybe 5% of apartments are accessible, including the bathroom, and of those, not all are affordable. I live in one of them, and I pay more than 60% of my income for rent. Of the apartments that are both affordable and accessible apartments, most of them are in places that have waiting lists and/or for seniors, and most have only 1 bedroom - not good if you have children.

william Peace said...

Could not have said it better myself.

Moose said...


I have been trying to get into affordable, accessible housing for two years in one of two areas. In both, they either have 5+ yr waiting lists or are in horrible neighborhoods (forget about being out after dark, I'd be afraid of being out in the DAYLIGHT!).

At one point I started calling regular apartment management companies asking for "an apartment with no steps between the sidewalk and the front door". One actually laughed at me and then hung up!

FoxyRox said...

Hi Bill, and everyone else. I like your blog and I am, as a bipedal person, very much the one you described in your post: outraged, but only in words; not involved. It's not, at least for me and I suspect for other people as well, that we don't care per se: I live in London and I have never seen a disabled person on any bus or subway route not allowed on transport, not accommodated, not helped in every possible way. I can assure you, every bus has a very functioning platform, 'stop-here' buttons accessible to all and up to 8 priority seats for elderly or disabled people, and they are mostly used for the purpose. Reading your blog is educational to me because I am not disabled and I am learning tons. But I wonder if your cause is 'not attractive' enough to raise awareness to us standing people.

Of course, it shouldn't have to be. Of course. Together with absolutely every other worthy cause in the world, from gay marriage and adoption to dying dolphins in Japan, we all have a battle to fight for. Now, this isn't a trick question, and I am asking so that I can have you teach me something I don't know, but what makes your cause appealing to the ignorant public? It is unfortunate I have to ask this, because you are every bit the same as any standing man, but with many more struggles - but every minority or problematic in the world has found its strength in something, whether it is big eyed babies or massive numbers, and don't we all LOVE the pink breast cancer ribbons? Don't we all fight for minority inclusion? Didn't we all adopt a child in Africa for £3 a month at some point. We did.

I believe your cause and I appreciate the amazing job you are doing, albeit your - at times- bitter tone. So my question to you is: what can you do to not only raise awareness, but to make YOUR cause the prime one worthy of notice? What can you do to ensure people 'like' your cause? There I go again, but in my humble opinion, niceness is often a winner. And it is awful that you have to package your anger with a chocolate cover so that everyone thinks, Gee! Yes! this is a GREAT cause! - and if you are not willing to compromise, what will you do?

Sorry for blabbing on, and thank you in advance for answering my post. If you are able to illuminate one kid at a time, you're half way there :)

william Peace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
william Peace said...

Foxy Roxy, What makes the our cause of disability rights attractive? Not one thing. Disability is rarely if ever seen as a positive influence. Disability is something to be avoided at all costs. Even positive images such as a well built young man mono skiing or a young woman using a wheelchair dancing are framed in a tragedy or inspiration model of disability. The only way to foster social change is use the law and force change. I lived in London a long time ago and what you describe in terms of the bus system reflects what took place in NYC. When lifts were put in place there was great animosity in NYC and London. Protests were held and the law was used as hammer to force change. It almost took 30 years. So yes I too can board a bus with being harassed or spit on. And yes I was spit on by able bodied passengers when I boarded the bus in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was screamed at too for single handedly destroying the economy of NYC.