The following New York Times article gives many common-sense ideas about interacting with people who have disabilities. In reading it, I realized that very little is new. It just reminds us of the value of treating EVERYONE with dignity and respect.
One of the reasons I love swimming is because my MS disappears when I’m in the water. I can dance, do somersaults and jump around all I want. And to top it off, it’s practically the best exercise a person with MS can get, because it is not weight-bearing and I can work and stretch just about any muscles I want.
That’s why I try to swim in the local pool a few times a week. I also use my rollator (walker with wheels) to get me safely from my car to the pool and back. It’s obviously quite important to have the rollator there, because almost all the surfaces are wet and slippery.
When I first joined, I saw that this pool had a couple of showers reserved for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires this for most public pools constructed or altered after 1992. That was good to see. I wanted to take a shower after swimming, and it’s downright dangerous to try to balance myself in a non-accessible shower on a slippery floor with no handrails.
I just assumed that when people saw me rolling towards the accessible shower, they wouldn’t try to make a beeline for it and get there before me. I mean, who would do that? The answer, of course, is that most people wouldn’t. But some people would and do.
I’ve had my tangles with those people, just like I’ve had words with people who do not have accessible placards but park in accessible parking places, or who take the “reserved for people with disabilities” table in coffee shops. It’s that last group that perplexes me the most, because they tend to become quite indignant and angry when I ask them to move so I can sit down with my rollator.
It’s easy to get worked up about this, but that’s not only ineffective but unhealthy. I have to pick my battles, remember to breathe and realize that quite often, people are just thoughtless. I mean that quite literally: People often just don’t think about what door they’re walking towards or what table they are sitting at.
And the truth is that a lot of people have disabilities that are not readily apparent, and they need that accessible parking place just as much as I do. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have occasionally learned that lesson the hard way.
One of the hopes of disability advocates is to eventually have “universal design,” where virtually all buildings are accessible, many more sidewalks have curb cuts and ramps are there when you need them. And that is not just a pipe dream. Since it costs virtually the same to construct a new “accessible” building as a more traditional one, and since many of those buildings are required to adhere to ADA standards when they are constructed or remodeled, it may be just a matter of time before this becomes a reality.
In the meantime, I’ll try to remember to keep breathing!
One of the most famous disability cases in the U.S. involved a pro golfer named Casey Martin. Although Mr. Martin was good enough to have made it to the U.S. Open in 1997, he was told by PGA TOUR, Inc. that he could not use his golf cart in the final phases of the competition. The reason, he was told, was because it would violate the rule prohibiting golf carts at that stage of play.
This was indeed what the rule said and it had a very laudable purpose – to avoid one competitor having an unfair advantage over the others. But Mr. Martin had Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder that obstructed blood flow, made walking extremely painful and fatiguing, and caused him to risk hemorrhaging and potential leg amputation.
It was definitely the kind of health condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Open Tour was among the events that was required to follow the law, if it could do so without either “fundamentally altering” the game or creating an “undue burden.”
The PGA Tour argued that to allow Martin to use a cart would indeed change the whole nature of the game by putting him at an undue advantage over other competitors. But the Supreme Court disagreed, writing that “Plaintiff is in significant pain when he walks, and even when he is getting in and out of the cart. With each step, he is at risk of fracturing his tibia and hemorrhaging. The other golfers have to endure the psychological stress of competition as part of their fatigue; Martin has the same stress plus the added stress of pain and risk of serious injury. As he put it, he would gladly trade the cart for a good leg. To perceive that the cart puts him–with his condition–at a competitive advantage is a gross distortion of reality.” https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/532/661.html
So Casey Martin was able to use his cart in the competition. So was Jack Daly, another well-known pro golfer with an arthritic knee, a condition that – depending on the severity – is most likely covered under the ADA. But when Mr. Daly attempted to compete last week in the British Open, he was told he could not use his golf cart, and the reasons were quite similar to those given to Casey Martin more than 20 years ago. 019/07/06/british-open-organizers-refuse-request-by-daly-to-use-cart/39659051/
The British Open is being held in Northern Ireland, where the disability laws are different than in the United States. And I’m not going to cast any moral or legal judgments about the situation, which I’m sure is more complicated than we know. But I do hope that as a worldwide culture, we are continuing to take a second look at traditions that are not only exclusionary, but may well have outlived their usefulness.
The earthquakes last week in California were scary for everyone. But they had to be particularly terrifying for wheelchair-users and others with mobility difficulties.
Everyone should have a plan for managing floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. But those of us who are more at risk have a special responsibility – to ourselves and our loved ones – to plan ahead.
Fortunately, there are resources available, like the ones cited in this post. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
In the article below, Bani Amor from CNN puts forth some excellent ideas about making PRIDE and other events accessible to everyone.
We all know there are a lot of things to protest these days. But as the recent PRIDE events have reminded us, there is also much reason to celebrate.
As someone who believes in protest as well as celebration, I try to be involved in both whenever I can. But since I also need a cane to get around, there are a few things I have to find out before I can attend such events. If we’re going to be inside, are there ramps and/or elevators? How much walking might I need to do, and is it possible for me to find places to rest?
Although sometimes I’m able to find answers to these questions beforehand, in most cases I find that I need to just go to the event to figure out if I can safely participate. And sometimes I discover, either privately or publicly, that it is not a safe venue for me.
In the article attached below, Bani Amor provides some great ideas about including people with disabilities in these sorts of public events.
In 1988, when Joseph P. Shapiro was a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, he was asked to write a news story about a gentleman who had won the “Man of the Year” award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“They had put him up in a hotel across the street from the club where he was to be feted,” Mr. Shapiro writes. “But getting across the street had been bizarrely difficult. There were no curb cuts at the end of the block, making his hotel a remote island in the middle of Manhattan. Taxicabs could not pick up the man’s heavy battery-powered wheelchair. Buses lacked wheelchair lifts. So the MS Society had hired a van with a special hydraulic lift simply to transport this man across the street.”
Fortunately, that strange street drama is much less likely to happen today, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that most newly-constructed and remodeled sidewalks install curb cuts.
But another bizarre situation happened last week, again in Manhattan. As mentioned in my previous post, Ali Stroker won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma. As the first wheelchair user to win a Tony, she represented yet another milestone for people with disabilities.
There are photos of Ms Stroker beaming and waving her award in the air, encouraging other people with disabilities to go after their dreams. But shortly thereafter, the news reported that Ms. Stroker had not been able to accept her award on stage, because there was no ramp going from the audience to the stage level. In addition, she was not able to join the rest of the cast onstage as they collectively accepted the award for Best Broadway Revival.
Does the ADA cover this situation? As with sidewalks, there are numerous accessibility requirements for theaters, but they generally must be undergoing new construction or remodeling for these requirements to kick in. For situations where there is no new construction or remodeling, accommodation must still be made if it is “readily achievable.” “Readily achievable is defined as “not requiring much difficulty or expense.”
We don’t know the difficulties involved in installing a ramp in that particular location, but it seems likely that this would have been readily achievable. That argument is strengthened by the fact that a ramp is specifically listed in the regulations as an example of a readily achievable accommodation.
But maybe the case will never have to be argued. The public reaction to Ms. Stroker’s isolation is probably more powerful than any court ruling would be, and I’m sure the theater will not want this publicity again WHEN the next performer with a disability is up for an award.