AN AMERICAN WITH A DISABILITY
She's ready to walk in Annie's shoes: Excellent article ["Step Right Up," Annie Zaleski]. What seems to be missing today is empathy, the idea of walking a mile in someone else's shoes rather than climbing over anyone you can to get yours. This article showed me, very movingly, what it is like to walk in your shoes — poles, orthotics and all.
The article was also very instructive as to schools and their role in socializing our children. The schools (like the corporate world and the general community) can sometimes be accused of doing the bare minimum to be in compliance — and sometimes, as I learned here, not even the minimum. But there is a difference between institutions and people. Courageous and caring teachers (and business owners and builders) can learn. Sometimes just having a problem pointed out to someone (the picnic table in the handicapped parking space, for example) can solve it. I prefer to believe that most people, with some knowledge, will choose to do the right thing. Let's embarrass the folks who ignore the wheelchair-bound, one person at a time; hopefully once is all it takes.
But hope is not enough. There is also the law of the land: the Americans with Disabilities Act. The role of "law" versus "civility" is to point people in the right direction as a society. Fortunately, our society has made equality for all our driving principle; the ADA is a natural outcome of that principle. Yes, it is sometimes painful. But what law is perfect? The aim is to make our society ever more inclusive. And that makes me proud to live in this country.
Mary Lou, via the Internet
Pay no attention to the lady in the wheelchair: Thanks for this very well-thought and well-written article. It seems people are increasingly clueless, insensitive and ungenerous about others' experience and then get defensive when confronted with the facts.
I've seen insensitivity expressed in two ways: First, offering examples of themselves or other disabled people who "see their disability as a gift" and "never ask for special treatment" and second, completely ignoring the disabled person's needs. My favorite example of this was when I took my sister to the Monterrey Aquarium, and I heard a mom telling her child, "Go stand in front of the lady with the wheelchair so you can see better."
I have also noticed that racism and classism pile on top of disability in this way: Most people who ride public transportation around here will obey the law and give their seat to a well-dressed, white senior or disabled person — but completely ignore someone who is brown or black or in worker's clothing.
Alex, via the Internet
Bipartisanship? What's that?: Great article. The passage of the ADA in 1990 and the ADAA in 2008 are examples of bipartisanship at work. While six Republicans voted against the ADA in 1990, the 2008 ADAA law, which strengthened and expanded the original ADA law, passed with no votes against it.
Remember that business lobbyists fought very hard against both the 1990 and 2008 acts. The Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Businesses spent millions and warned that these laws would harm businesses and unleash a flood of lawsuits. After the ADA passed, in case after case, judges ruled for businesses and against disabled individuals, basically leaving the ADA as a toothless tiger. The intent of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was to fix that.
Sadly, the ADA would most likely fall to a Republican filibuster if it were brought to the Senate or House floor today. The Republican base would very likely demand to know where in the Constitution it says that Congress must protect Americans with disabilities and would make compliance voluntary to save businesses money. Today we have an elected United States Senator, Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, who is a vocal opponent to the ADA.
The question I ask myself is whether the ADA would pass today, when healthcare and unemployment benefits are considered too much government. Sad to say it, but I don't think it would.
Never consider the fight over, and never take for granted that the war is won.
Rob M., via the Internet