And Many More!
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Aug 01, 2015
Fernando Sanchez Cortes/shutterstock.com
Just as Mobility Management was getting started, I heard about a lawsuit filed by a wheelchair user who said a local strip club that didn’t have a ramp was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA was not quite 12 years old then. Mobility Management was a new launch for a family-owned publishing company that was also new to the mobility and rehab industries. We were in a small office at the time, and I recall the snickering when co-workers overheard the topic of my latest news story.
“What difference does it make that he can’t get into a strip club?” a colleague asked. “He shouldn’t be going there anyway!”
“It’s not like strip clubs are necessities,” another added. “It’s not critical that he be able to get into a place like that.”
That wasn’t the point, I told them. The plaintiff was a consenting adult. He should have the right to go where he wanted.
“He has the right to spend his paycheck on drinks and strippers if he wants,” I said. “He has every right to act as foolishly as anybody else.”
Over the years, the general public has become accustomed to the sight of wheelchair ramps. Things aren’t perfect. There are still plenty of news stories about ramps that are blocked, about businesses taken to court because they don’t provide barrier-free entrances or full access to swimming pools. Plenty of chatter at tradeshows about accessible rooms being assigned to attendees who don’t need them, while attendees who do instead get rooms with beds that are too high and bathtub-style showers.
Still, the awareness of physical accessibility has risen since 2002. I think it has, anyway.
So while we all still need to work toward physical inclusion, maybe the next big hurdle is…I’m not sure what to call it. Social inclusion? Cognitive awareness? A fuller understanding by people without disabilities that people with disabilities are, well, people.
That’s not usually how the general public views people with disabilities.
Stella Young, who died in December at age 32, was an Australian comedian, journalist and activist with osteogenesis imperfecta. In April 2014, Young gave a TED talk in Sydney. She grew up a typical teenager who went to school, fought with her sisters, and loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Young was 15, she said community leaders approached her parents and announced they wanted to give Young a community achievement award. Her parents protested: “She hasn’t actually achieved anything.”
Young contended that able-bodied people tend to view people with disabilities as “objects of inspiration” rather than human beings. She used the term “inspiration porn” to describe the fallacy that having a disability automatically raises you up. “It doesn’t make you exceptional,” Young said. “I use the term ‘porn’ deliberately, because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. The purpose…is to inspire you, to motivate you, so we can look at them and think, ‘However bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.’ But what if you are that person?”
The ADA turns 25 years old on July 26. Some physical barriers have come down, and I hope many more follow. But we should work on bringing down social barriers and misconceptions as well, and hope that with every ADA anniversary going forward, people with disabilities are closer to being perceived simply and wholly as people.
Happy 25 years, ADA, and many more.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.