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Bully Pulpit: Don’t Take ‘No’
December 1, 2011 Advocacy

Tim Gilmer“Our population is too willing to take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Marty Ball, TiLite sales VP and longtime wheelchair user. He’s talking about wheelers getting claims denied for wheelchairs and not complaining about it. “Too many don’t fight, and they have a right to.”

He’s absolutely right. Our government passed the ADA to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, government services, public transportation, public accommodations and more. Yet that same government has given Medicare the right to deny us the very equipment we need to leave our homes. When considering claims for wheelchairs, Medicare’s policy is to ignore our need for personal mobility outside the home.

Medicare’s in-the-home rule is not only discriminatory, it is archaic. When it went into effect, disabled people were expected to live in institutions. “I’m sad to say,” Ball says, “that some legislators still think that’s where we ought to be.”

Don’t think for a moment that the in-the-home rule only discriminates against those who are on Medicare. State Medicaid programs and private health insurance companies follow Medicare policy, too.

This battle is not just about equipment. It’s about our right to take part in our own culture. Even the mayor of the largest city in our nation seems to think he can ignore our rights. Here are some of Mayor Bloomberg’s more ridiculous objections to complying with our ADA-sanctioned right to accessible cabs: The average person finds accessible cabs really uncomfortable; passengers sit too far away so they can’t have a good dialog with the driver (and won’t tip as much); a lot of people are going to get hurt getting in and out of accessible cabs.

There are obvious similarities between our being denied access to NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” and our being denied access to wheelchairs built with modern technology. Both denials are based on the idea that we are not entitled to the same freedom of movement as nondisabled citizens. That is blatantly discriminatory.

But this time we are fighting back. United Spinal Association has brought lawsuits against NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and Mayor Bloomberg on the lack of accessible taxis. On Nov. 3 Taxis for All, supported by United Spinal, protested the unveiling of the inaccessible “Taxi of Tomorrow.” The next day, United Spinal attorney James Weisman and others met with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to discuss a bill being considered to expand taxi service outside Manhattan. Weisman pressed for all cabs in the expanded area to be accessible. He sees momentum gathering in our favor.

If United Spinal and the disability community prevails on the taxi issue, there is no reason why wheelchair users cannot change archaic Medicare policy as well. Being able to move around freely, whether by wheelchair or taxi, is our fundamental right. Mark your calendars: Roll on Capitol Hill: June 25-26, 2012.

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