Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tired of the Lawsuits

I have been disabled all of my life.  All 61 years.  I feel eminently qualified, therefore, to speak on the issue of accessibility or lack thereof.

Due to my disability, and for no other reason, there are activities and sports I cannot participate in, places I cannot go, and careers I cannot pursue.  This is virtually never due to lack of accessibility.  It is solely and entirely due to my 3 missing limbs and use of a wheelchair.  More directly, my disability imposes many limitations.  It always has and always will.

Discrimination claims are all too common these days.  It is so tiring.  My discussion here will focus only on claims of discrimination against the disabled.  Most of these too are tiring, and I am often embarrassed by them.  Constant claims of injustice often lead to an indifferent audience; e.g. the ‘crying wolf’ analogy.

For example, once again, there is a lawsuit against Disneyland for not properly accommodating their disabled guests.  Honestly, my initial response was an unsympathetic “now what?”  Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for equality.  I am all for no discrimination.  I am all for civil rights.  I am all for the disabled sharing in the world just as anyone else.  I am also for understanding that things are not the same as anyone else.  I am also for realizing the limits, accepting with dignity what I can’t do, and understanding that the world can never realistically accommodate my every need.

I appreciate so much the past efforts of disability advocates in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990.  Lawmakers agreed that major changes were badly needed.  Realizing that there were challenges in meeting ALL needs, the agreed goal was to serve the largest percentage of the disabled population as possible.  Gradually, there was a significant increase in the number of ramps, bathroom revisions, handrails, sign language interpreters, braille signage, and modifications to public transportation, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, schools, and sports stadiums.  Indeed, the ADA profoundly improved the quality of life for countless people.

As anticipated, some disabilities did not benefit as much as others.  Sadly, this will always be true no matter how much is done.  For example, I personally need a toilet with a handrail on the right.  Many times, the handrail is on the left or in the back.  Neither works for me, rendering usage of the toilet impossible.  I must realize this possibility before I go out.  I must adapt.  I must have an alternate plan.  Before you think that putting a handrail on both sides is an easy answer, it is not.  Even attempting to do so would make it harder or impossible for someone else, particularly a wheelchair user.  While this handrail issue poses limits for me, it would be foolish to stomp around claiming that the ADA did not address my needs.  It is totally unreasonable to think that every single special need can be, or should be, addressed.  It is simply not possible.  Thus, it is up to us, the disabled population, our family and friends, to find ways to exist in the world.  We must find ingenious and clever ways to adapt.  We must accept that sometimes the alternatives may momentarily wound our dignity.  However, in the end, we must always focus on what we CAN do and not so much on what we can’t do.

The Disneyland lawsuit alleges that some disabled patrons can’t enjoy the theme park.  First of all, I wonder how anyone can enjoy the park with the incredulous admission fees (currently $99) and insufferable long lines but, I digress.

I have been to Disneyland many times, and I have always felt that they accommodated the disabled superbly.  If one thing didn’t work, they tried another.  They once had a reduced price for a disabled person if they said they couldn’t get on the rides.  This was handy for the elderly too.  Of course, they had no way to regulate this once inside the park so it didn’t take long for some to take advantage of the reduced price and it was discontinued.  Then they allowed a disabled person and their party to go to the front of the line.  Incredibly then, unusually large groups of people claimed they were with a disabled person.  Sometimes, a group would even rent a wheelchair for one of them just so the entire group could go to the front.  Again, this was stopped.  Disneyland then allowed a disabled person to wait at the front of the line for their party to get to the front.  For various reasons, this too was stopped.  It is disappointing that so many people deemed having a disability to be some sort of advantage.

Disneyland, other amusement parks and public places have made significant modifications for the disabled.  Despite this, the lawsuits continue.  The current one against Disneyland claims that autistic children have trouble understanding the new “line policy” (get a time and come later).  This seems senseless to me.  Parents of disabled children (autistic included) should know their child’s limits and not expose them to avoidable frustration.  They might even be too short to ride so preparing them ahead of time for this possibility is prudent.  It would be ludicrous to claim that the ride company did not consider short kids.  Disabled adults should also anticipate the limits they may face.  Pregnant women and the elderly also have limits.  For me, I must always anticipate that possibly NO bathroom will have a handrail on the right.  Thus, it is my responsibility, and mine alone, to have an alternate plan before I go or maybe not go at all.  Unfortunate?  Yes.  Unfair?  Yes.  My reality?  Yes.

More and more people claim to be disenfranchised every day, which makes it more and more difficult to adjudicate legitimate claims.  I have seen assertions that all restaurants should have higher (or lower) table heights for disabled guests.  How high?  How low?  How many tables?  For which disability?  I have seen demands that bathroom stalls in every public bathroom be large enough to accommodate an adult changing table and 3 people.  I find both of these unreasonable.  The key word throughout the ADA law is “reasonable.”  By definition, reasonable means “fair and sensible, being in accordance with reason.”  

There are as many individual disabilities and special needs as there are disabled people.  It is not reasonable, certainly not even possible, to accommodate every single need of every single person.  In the end, it will always be up to the disabled person and/or their family to find resourceful ways to face challenges that the majority of the population quite frankly simply does not face.  It is not fair, it is not fun.  It is unfortunate and sometimes even depressing, but it is no one’s fault.  It is ultimately more productive to adopt an attitude and behavior of meeting challenges graciously and not placing blame for what should be done.  It is infinitely more gratifying to meet challenges head on, to have realistic expectations, to accept what cannot reasonably be changed, to focus solidly on what IS possible, and yes, to be grateful for the changes that have been made. 

There will always be challenges and limitations for disabled people.  There will always be special needs not met.  There will always be unfortunate and unfair circumstances.   How one deals with them is the key.  Acceptance is not the same as “giving in.”  It just is what it is.