Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Conversing about the ADA

I had one of those conversations about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and where it's led the other day.

I sat there shaking my head as one of the folks kept saying things like 'special rights' and 'entitlement'.

I refrained, for about ten minutes, from using words like 'backlash' and 'access' and 'universal design'.

Then I said, without using my loud voice which would have done no good, that discrimination against disabled people affects their rights under all laws.

It affects their rights as tenants, employees, home buyers, customers and more.

Our society has proven that without an anti-discrimination law against disabled people, the following happens: Some people aren't hired and are fired due to disability.  Some folks don't rent to disabled people or sell homes to them.

Then I asked :

Is it a special right to be able to rent? Apparently so in some folks' eyes.

Do we have a sense of entitlement when we want to be treated with the same consideration in a pool of job applicants?

 I went further and asked:

Or does that only extend to when we want to be able to get inside to the interview? Or a store? Or a bathroom?

And then I told stories. Lots of them. About how, over the past 18 years, if there was no ADA, how my life would have been different.  My world smaller.  How I only got housing , transportation, and more through friends. How fortunate I was, when the ADA was in its early stages, to have the level of education I did - and still am by the way, but how my rights were still affected. And what opportunities were lost to me due to lack of access in its early days.

Telling our stories to people about discrimination isn't easy. But it brings home that all of our rights under all of our laws - voting and a way to be mobile - just simply the ability to show up - needs protection. It has for a long time. It still does.

Sadly I still have stories to tell.

I say all this without a loud voice these days.  I recognize that without progress there wouldn't be backlash. I accept that some folks will never 'get' the extent of discrimination and will bandy about words like entitlement and special treatment until their dying day.

But I will continue to tell my stories, because I believe it is the most powerful witness to the changes we need to see.


william Peace said...

Stories help without question. But I would add the proviso that too many stories are counter productive in the sense they individualize disability. Hence the main issue, disability rights as civil rights, can be lost. I have found there is a fine line in the utility of story telling. What do you want people to remember? A good story or that the civil rights of people with a disability are protected by the ADA?

Ruth said...

Bill -I'm not saying that stories should be told in a way that takes the focus off the civil rights protection of the ADA. Quite the opposite. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say! One must tell a story with a focus, to be sure.

william Peace said...

I hope you realize I was raising a philosophical concern not a criticism. No question in my mind we are on the same page.

Ruth said...

I know that - and I agree that we're on the same page. Always look forward to your comments, Bill - thanks :)