August 17, 2012

Let The Handicapped In

We can build "the bomb" and sequence human DNA, but we still are challenged in caring for and accommodating the handicapped. 

Some of the major legislative protections to the disabled are afforded under:

-  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs, and 

-  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which covers things like employment, public programs (state and local) and transportation, public accommodations (housing) and commercial facilities, and telecommunications. 

Despite these protections, our world still remains a harsh place for many disabled people--and we see it with older facilities that have not been retrofitted, broken elevators in the Metro, managers being obstinate to providing reasonable accommodations, and people not getting up from seats designated or not, for the disabled.  

In yet more extreme cases, some people can show their worst and be just plain cruel toward the disabled:

On the Metro recently, there was a near fight between two young male passengers squeezing onto the train; when one tried walking away, deeper into the belly of the car, the other guy pursues him, and literally jumped over a guy in a wheelchair--hitting him with his shoe in the back of his head.  

On yet another occasion, also on the Metro, there was a wheelchair with it's back to the train doors (I think he couldn't turn around because of the crowding). A couple gets on the train, apparently coming from the airport, and puts their luggage behind the wheelchair.  At the next station or so, when the wheelchair tries to back out to get off the train, the couple refuses to move their luggage out of the way. The guy in wheelchair really had guts and pushed his chair over and past the luggage, so he could get off.

To me these stories demonstrate just an inkling of not only the harsh reality that handicapped face out there, but also the shameful way people still act to them. 

Today, the Wall Street Journal (17 August 2012) had an editorial by Mr. Fay Vincent, a former CEO for Columbia Pictures and commissioner of Major League Baseball, and he wrote an impassioned piece about how difficult it has been for him to get around in a wheelchair in everywhere from bathrooms at prominent men's clubs, through narrow front office doors at a medical facility for x-rays, and even having to navigate "tight 90-degree turns" at an orthopedic hospital! 

Vincent writes: "Even well-intentioned legislation cannot specify what is needed to accomodate those of us who are made to feel subhuman by unintentional failures to provide suitable facilities."

Mr. Vincent seems almost too kind and understanding here as he goes on to describe a hotel shower/bath that was too difficult for him to "climb into or out" and when he asked the CEO of a major hotel chain why there wasn't better accommodation for the disabled, the reply was "there are not many people like you visiting the top-level hotels, so it does not make business sense to cater to the handicapped."

Wow--read that last piece again about not making business sense catering to the handicapped--is this really only about dollar and cents or can decency and compassion play any role here? 

Yes, as Mr. Vincent points out, "modern medicine is keeping us all older for longer," and many more people will require these basic and humane accommodations for getting around, bathing, going to the toilet, and more.  Let's make this a national, no a global priority--every one deserves these basic dignities. 

I am not clear on the loopholes, exemptions, deficiencies in guidelines, or insufficiencies of enforcement that are enabling people to still be so callous, cruel, and just plain stupid, but it time to change not only what's written on paper, but to change people's hearts too. 

(Source Photo: here)


No comments: