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Friday, July 3, 2015

July 4th is Not For All

National holidays will always resonate with me.  July 4th, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and President's Day etc. all prompt the same memory--severe illness and hospitalization. Name a National Holiday and I can recall being extremely sick. Growing up my siblings teased me about my penchant to get sick at the worst possible time. I did not do this one or twice. I did it a lot. So pardon me for not getting over excited about July 4th or any other day we as a nation celebrate. I also heard too many horrific and overly nationalistic speeches when my son and I were involved in the Boy Scouts. The end result is I get pretty cranky in the days leading up to July 4. This year my mood is especially grim because on July 26 the ADA will celebrate its 25th anniversary. As I looked out my window in the pre dawn light I thought about the ADA. Why do people with a disability remain unequal?  Why do I feel so estranged from other? 

I pondered the above for quite some time. Then I read Stephen Kuusisto's blog post "Disability at the 4th of July". Link: Kuusisto recalled the many people with power that vigorously opposed the ADA. He wrote: 

Yes, the ADA is now grown up. Her longevity is remarkable because boy oh boy, did she ever have some enemies, especially when she was just a kid. (Remember Clint Eastwood? How about Antonin Scalia?) Yes, there was a considerable cast of characters (who we can also call a person) who ardently wished to kill ADA in her cradle. I, for instance, have a great memory. I recall Tom Delay saying on the floor of the US Senate in 1990:  “The cost to the nation and the economy is going to be dramatic. This goes way beyond the bounds of reason.” Or how about noisome blab from the National Review:  “Under the guise of civil rights for the disabled, the Senate had passed a disaster for U.S. business.” ADA’s enemies proposed that euthanizing the child was really for the best. Notice the use of the phrase under the guise of civil rights, as though equal opportunity and civic life are, after all, really, just a fiction, or, to put it more succinctly, they’re a true story only for some. Perhaps the most vigorous opponent of ADA was (and remains) the Chamber of Commerce, which even today, bloviates that accessibility guidelines kill small businesses. (In order to believe this, its crucial to think that “the disabled” are insufficient customers, who live alone, who have no families and spouses and children who also shop.) 

Kuusisto is too kind to those that opposed the ADA. Tom Delay was a bigot. Clint Eastwood, also a bigot, went on the make Million Dollar Baby, the most widely watched disability snuff film.  I love the line above "ADA's enemies proposed euthanizing the child was really for the best".  Today, with prenatal testing people with Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida are simply not born--no need for euthanasia; though we must try to pass assisted suicide legislation just in case we live too long and, gasp, acquire a disability. Simply put, the ADA did not destroy small or large businesses. The real trouble is indeed the Chamber of Commerce. It is my neighbor. It is your colleagues at work. It is the carpenter, tailor, sales person who helped you pick out an item clothing, your boss, a bus driver etc. The reason the ADA has failed culturally is simple and complex at the same time but shares one thing in common: ignorance, willing ignorance.  Major Owens, a Democrat who served from 1987 to 2003 in the U.S. House of Representatives, noted: 

There's a kind of sick security some people get out of keeping away from people with disabilities. They are running away from any situation that's not totally pure and all-American and that requires them to do any thinking.

People choose to remain ignorant when it comes to disability. People choose not to think. Symbolically disability remains a symbol of the fragility of the human body. We people with a disability are an ever present reminder that life can go askew at any given time. The response was and remains fear--out of sight out of mind. We created institutions and enacted laws to segregate people from all typical others. We choose not to think about disability. Oh, how many times I have heard "Sorry we never thought about wheelchair access". Great, that is the perfect and most polite way to insure a person with a disability will be excluded. This brings me back to July 4th. My little town is having fireworks. I love fireworks and yet I rarely if ever attend a fireworks show. I do not attend because in terms of wheelchair access there will be no accessible bathroom (sorry, we did not think of it). Will there be a safe dimly lit trail to where a person with a disability can enjoy the show (sorry we did not think of it). Will there be a safe way to get to and from your car (sorry we did not think of it).  Am I being too harsh? No. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fatalities related to car and pedestrians is at a historic low point.  There is one exception: people with a disability. The number of people hit by a vehicle increased last year. Why? Blocked curb cuts or lack of a curb curt that forces a person such as myself into the street. Hence my concern about safety post fireworks. I am sure you can guess why there is a blocked or absent curb cut. "Sorry we didn't think of it".  Ignorance can and does kill people with a disability. Cheery thoughts for July 3. No worries, I will put only fake happy face tomorrow so others will feel comfortable and not think of disability.


Middle Child said...

July 4th is my husband's birthday and the date my Mother in Australia id doesn't mean anything at all - ours is Jan 26th. I remember when they redesigned our only Picture Theatre and announced it had Wheelchair access...we were so pleased but only to find that the toilets were down a flight of stairs - no access and the only access was in the Flyer...both theatres still had access so you could buy a ticket but not go in and not use a toilet. We had a field day in the local paper with that furphy... but still would have preferred access. On a lighter note but ridiculous - am unsure if I have told you this but a friend of ours bought a pair of Sheepskin boots when he was overseas but didn't check the box till home...there were 2 left feet and wasn't worth the cost of returning so he very magnanimously presented Don with the boots as he said "It wouldn't matter so much as you won't have to walk with them..." He seriously thought he was doing Don a favour. He was so pleased with himself.

william Peace said...

Nessie, You recently sent a comment I deleted by mistake. Sorry.
Middle, Always a pleasure to receive a comment from you. July 4th sounds like a rough day for you. I laughed when I read July 4th does not mean anything in Australia. I recall being in the UK and being surprised July 4th was an ordinary day. Oh, how naive I was.