No one likes to wait. We avoid long lines of people waiting their turn to buy things; we get irritated when stuck in snail’s pace traffic; our frustration rises when we have a slow connection on the Internet. But there is a far more insidious type of waiting that goes on every day, all around us, and we mostly do nothing about it. I’m talking about the decades long wait for respect.
We see evidence of the lack of respect everywhere: in great cities like New York City, where the mayor and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission focus their energy and taxpayers’ money on upgrading the taxi fleet — for everyone except wheelchair users. Mayor Bloomberg and the TLC have gone to great lengths to blatantly disregard the Americans with Disabilities Act — our one best hope for equal treatment under federal law. The same goes for health care providers, who seem to see our health needs as less important than … well, anyone who is not disabled.
But if we look outside our borders, the lack of respect mushrooms. Every nation is beset with mistreatment — a very mild word to describe what really happens when people with intellectual disabilities are institutionalized and treated like lesser forms of life. Other forms of disrespect and abuse are built right into the fabric of the “civilized” environment of otherwise advanced nations. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities International Task Force reports a story of a wheelchair user in Moscow, Russia, who has not left his apartment for the past 10 years. He fears being attacked — again — and Moscow lacks wheelchair accessibility anyway. How many more lives are severely restricted because people can’t move around in mostly inaccessible cities, or in countries where cultural aberrations make it shameful, forbidden or unsafe to be seen in public?
Hateful attitudes are mostly hidden, but when they surface, the stories can be shockingly sickening, like the developmentally disabled man in Canada who was held captive and tortured for 17 days and subsequently suffered a stroke and brain damage. On the other hand, inaccessible transportation, sidewalks, bathrooms and buildings in major cities everywhere are exposed for all to see, yet they are routinely ignored by public officials.
All of these forms of disrespect are connected, wherever they occur. They are global in scope, universal in practice. Which brings me back to the beginning, to the waiting game.
As we patiently wait for attitudes and awareness to change, millions of people are forced to live their lives as unequal citizens of the world, some of them under unbearable circumstances. And the one nation whose influence and power can help turn the tide of disrespect and abuse refuses to acknowledge the need to address worldwide mistreatment of people with disabilities. When will the United States Congress ratify the international Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities? When will our nation take its seat alongside more than 133 nations that have already ratified the treaty?