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Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's Going On at Newsweek

In the last month two excellent articles have been published by Newsweek. Yes, Newsweek, a classic example of the venerable print media that is dying a slow death has published two excellent articles that were disability related. The first article published last month on September 23 was entitled "Redefining Cure", the second was published yesterday, October 23 and entitled "Blind Spot". The article, "Redefining Cure", on cure for spinal cord injury was not your archetypical story, a.k.a. a Christopher Reeve diatribe for stem cell research. Alan T. Brown, a long time advocate for a cure and disability rights effectively pointed out we need to redefine our idea of what a cure for spinal cord injury entails. Super Bowl commercials of Reeve walking again and pity ploys are not what Brown has in mind. Brown rails against the cost of living with a spinal cord injury and focuses on the lofty goal of cure and advocacy. These two goals are not mutually exclusive, fact that eluded Reeve his entire post disability life. What amazed me was that Brown was able to get Newsweek to write about spinal cord injury, cure, and advocacy with nuance and understanding. This is something the mainstream media has traditionally been unable or unwilling to do.

The second article in Newsweek, "Blind Spot", raises a subtle and fascinating point: what does accessible mean for museums. Since 2008 a Justice Department ruling has forced museums to grapple what accessibility means. Everyone knows (or at least I hope so) that ramps are required by law and have been since the ADA was passed. But in the words of Nina Levent, executive director of New York's Education for the Blind, "The issue is, do people come to museums to ride elevators and use bathrooms, or do they come to have a meaningful social and aesthetic experience". Wow, this was followed a few paragraphs later by "Following the letter rather than the spirit of the law is a problem that some people think has plagued the ADA from the start". I could not agree more with both of these statements but it is nothing less than a shock to read them in the pages of Newsweek. Where I disagree with the article "Blind Spot" is that the author thinks most museums are doing more than the bare minimum. This is simply not the case at museums I frequent like the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art among others in New York City. Bathrooms in staff areas are utterly absent at both institutions. A wheelchair lift on the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History in the dinosaur area has been broken for years. More generally, much print information throught both museums cannot be seen from a wheelchair and services for the blind are severely limited. Over the years I have pointed out many problems in the most polite way possible. Not once has the lack of access been corrected. Museum off site tours are often closed to people with a disability and no suggestions are forthcoming about comparable experiences. Newsweek even hints at my criticism noting that "we're not there yet" in terms of equal access. No we are indeed not there yet but if more articles like the two Newsweek published are printed and widely read access for all will come far sooner than I hoped for.

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