24 October 2010

Disability Awareness Week: Why ADA Matters

Let's have a discussion...

Imagine a world not so long ago, a world before 1990.

"Sara" is an active grad student. One day, while driving back to her apartment from her part-time job, a drunk driver runs a stoplight and hits her. Sara is very lucky - her car is totaled, but only her left leg is broken, and her right ankle is cracked. She will eventually make a full recovery, but she needs to use a wheelchair for several weeks.

Her school loans her a wheelchair, and she's getting pretty good at navigating her way around. One night, when she's been feeling a bit better, her friends want to take her to their favorite local Italian restaurant. They know this is the distraction Sara needs. When they arrive, they remember that there are several steps to get in, and no ramp. Sara's friends aren't strong enough to pick her up and carry her in. They give up trying to find a solution, and just go to a different chain place down the street. After a half-hour, Sara needs to make a quick trip to the restroom. Unfortunately, her chair can't fit through the door. Her friends end up having to escort her to the convenience store two blocks away to attend to this 'call of nature.' Needless to say, the night has been less than fun.

Sara will eventually get better and be able to go back to hanging out with her friends. Unfortunately, many with mobility impairment will not. Should they have to stay home? Should they not be able to go do normal activities with their friends, such as attending the theatre, eating out, or having a drink at a pub?

Rand Paul says that allowing equal access to a business is infringing upon the rights of the business.* Some people (on FB) have argued that the market will correct itself; i.e., if a business isn't accessible, then handicapped people won't go there and that income will be lost. Therefore, the business will choose accessibility without the government's intervention. This argument is ludicrous.
How do I know this? Because obviously businesses WEREN'T making themselves accessible, which is why George Bush Sr. had to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. His son, George W., expanded upon the ADA in 2008 to further assist disabled Iraq War veterans.

Here is the recent argument against the ADA, including Rand Paul's ridiculous one:

What if a small business in a three-story building chooses to hire a guy in a wheelchair? The government will FORCE them to pay $100,000 to put in an elevator! We can't have that undue financial burden on small businesses!

This is completely bullshit false. The ADA clearly states (ADA 4.1.3 (5) EXCEPTION 1) that a building 3-stories or fewer does NOT have to install an elevator unless it is a shopping mall or a hospital. Giving the wheelchair user an office and restroom on the first floor fulfills the business' obligation. Also, the ADA states that the "reasonable accommodation" cannot cause "undue hardship" on any business.

Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation. Believe it or not, many cases have been tossed out of court for proposing 'undue hardship' on a business; in 2003, ADA discrimination cases failed 94.5% of the time.

But having the government tell a business what to do, even if it is the right thing to do, is government overreach! This is a free country!

If a building is open to the public, such a Wal-mart or your local pub, then logically the public should have access. A disabled war veteran and a women injured in a car accident have the same freedom to access those businesses that an able-bodied person does. Your home doesn't have to be accessible, but the local school or church must make a "reasonable accommodation." There are tax credits to assist with this.

What about what the Founding Fathers thought? You know, in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?

Have you read them? The part about the Interstate Commerce Clause, or the part about how all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Hey, I'm not in favor of giving someone an extra advantage; I'm in favor of giving someone an equal opportunity in life. Yes, the government overreaches in several areas - providing a ramp at the local grocery so that a disabled war veteran can shop for food isn't one of them.

Anyone of any race/religion/sexual orientation could find themselves disabled - this isn't a "big government" issue or an "anti-business" issue. These people aren't welfare bums sucking off your tax dollar. These are people in college and the workplace, making a living and paying their bills.** This is a pervasive issue that could affect any one of us at any time.

So again, why should we get rid of the act guaranteeing equal access to goods and services in our free country?

While normally I like to cite both conservative and liberal media, all the conservative media focuses on the Civil Rights Act issue, and ignores the ADA aspect. Because of this, I've tried to keep all citations neutral.

*PAUL: You know a lot of things on employment ought to be done locally. You know, people finding out right or wrong locally. You know, some of the things, for example we can come up with common sense solutions — like for example if you have a three story building and you have someone apply for a job, you get them a job on the first floor if they’re in a wheelchair as supposed to making the person who owns the business put an elevator in, you know what I mean? So things like that aren’t fair to the business owner.

**Yes, of course there are disabled welfare bums, just as there are white welfare bums and black welfare bums. Again, disability affect everyone, just like laziness. We still let the lazy shop at Wal-mart though; that shouldn't change just because they are in a wheelchair.

Also consulted for this blog was "Assisting Law Students with Disabilities in the 21st Century: A New Horizon?" American University's Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law, Vol 18, Num 1, pgs 1 - 162. Yes, I read every page.


  1. This issue, like many other troubling and challenging social problems, is best left to private individuals and businesses, whose actions are largely untraceable; rather than that untrustworthy and relatively transparent federal government.

    You know, the one that can't even torture people in foreign countries without everyone finding out about it.

    A system like that is rife with abuse, even though I can't actually prove any; but I can think of anecdotal, hypothetical situations that inflame the senses, fog up the mind and make my argument seem semi-reasonable and not at all made up.

  2. But God created WikiLeaks to fix all transparency and abuse issues.