Americans with Disabilities Act, we thought you were going to fix everything! But you didn’t, did you? What’s that, you say? It’s not your fault — it’s people being their usual, pigheaded selves? It’s government obduracy? Well, that’s fair. But stay strong, ADA! We’re on a roll. Now, let’s take care of unfinished business.
1. Norm wouldn’t sue Cheers. There are only two ways to get the ADA enforced. Regular people with disabilities have to either file complaints with the DOJ or sue their local businesses. That’s like Norm suing Cheers! Especially if you live in a small town. Truly, everyone will know your name. On the other hand, if you live in a big city, you can file so many lawsuits that a judge will step in and bar you from being able to use the only legal instrument permitted to you in the first place. Can we create access and keep the peace at the same time?
2. Where are the jobs? Twenty-five years after disability discrimination was outlawed, unemployment is actually worse, not better. And sometimes, even when you do get a job, you can’t keep it because of outlandish regulations — as in the case of Jenny Weast, who was so successful at teaching that she earned “too much” and is told she has to choose between her job and attendant care. We need some new thinking at the intersection of rights and regulations to keep active, motivated people with disabilities in the workforce. All we want is to pay our fair share of taxes!
3. Let’s co-opt the transit revolution. Ride-sharing is brilliant. Smartphone apps that connect you with rides: brilliant. But now all that hard work we did to make old-school buses and trains and cabs accessible is at risk of obsolescence. We chained ourselves to Greyhounds, for chrissakes! We need to join today’s revolution. We can gain jobs as well as rides. Are we going to let these new transit punks leave us in the dust?
4. Accessible travel is a “thing,” but ... there are still glitches. Like, wheelchairs mangled by baggage handlers, shuttles with “broken” lifts and rental companies where you can’t even get a hand-controlled mini-van, and when you reach your destination you need a wing and a prayer to climb up into your super-high hotel bed. Yet with all of these hassles, it’s worth it to have vacation pics to inflict upon our friends.
5. Olmstead kind of works. But that landmark ADA settlement doesn’t create a right to personal assistance, it leaves it up to states to create programs. We need a legal right to in-home care, just like the one that says we’re entitled to a nursing home bed. ADAPT’s latest fix is the Community Integration Act, which died in committee last congressional cycle. When will our representatives remember they represent us, too? When we make them.
6. Say, doesn’t the ADA cover doctor’s offices and hospitals? It’s absurd that the same people who think they know the most about disability ignore our most basic needs. Wheelchair-accessible exam tables and scales can be purchased, but still are not common features. And as for hospital rooms, you’d think they’d be the first to become accessible, but in fact they’re often the last. Why not ask your doctor why he thinks this is so?
7. Speaking of health care … it’s great the Affordable Care Act has made pre-existing conditions a thing of the past — thanks, Obama. But we still can’t buy long-term care insurance or even life insurance at affordable rates. Someone needs to tell the insurance companies we’re not dead yet.
8. Why so many inaccessible houses of worship? True, they’re not covered by the ADA, but shouldn’t they do the right thing? There is something sadly ironic about a church with a sign declaring all are welcome at the top of an ancient staircase. And yet, there’s still one thing we can count on: Complete strangers accosting us in public to “pray the demon of paralysis” away.