Monday, July 31, 2023

Americans with Disabilities Act - Celebrating 33 years

Meghan is an autistic person who is an instructor at E4 Texas at the University of Texas (Austin) and a EPC-USA board member.

By Meghan Schrader

Meghan Schrader

In these last few days of Disability Pride Month following the July 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I feel inspired to write about justice for disabled people in general. 

I appreciate the opportunity to write about assisted suicide on the EPC blog because I regard assisted suicide as being on a continuum of human rights violations against disabled people. On a spectrum of disability rights abuses, assisted suicide for disabled people is right at the bottom-right next to the idea of “let’s kill disabled people.” (Article Link)

However, in honor of this past anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I note that opposition to assisted suicide is an important disability justice issue, and I want to encourage readers of the EPC blog to work hard at addressing the other issues.

I am very grateful for the Americans With Disabilities Act, and very proud to live in a country whose civil rights legislation for disabled people often serves as a model for the rest of the world. For instance, the ADA played a significant role in inspiring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. (Link to the article). Although the Americans with Disabilities Act certainly has not extricated systemic ableism from our society, disabled people in the United States have more protections then disabled people in many other parts of the world, even in other developed countries. And, for that I can thank the disability rights activists who crawled up the Capital Steps to demand the ADA be signed in 1990, and the disability rights advocates who occupied the HEW headquarters in 1975 to demand the implementation of the ADA’s predecessor law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Those are the kinds of events that we commemorate and celebrate during Disability Pride Month. 
(Link to the video).

But, I’m sorry to say that more than three decades after the ADA, disabled people still have to deal with antipathy from people who see the ADA as a bother or an injustice against able-bodied people. In fact, a recent poll of disabled people indicated that the majority of disabled voters believe that most politicians do not care about us, and I fall into that camp. (Link to article). I’ve seen ableism everywhere being refracted through the prism of whatever political ideology individuals happen to hold. That is why some disability justice advocates refer to Disability Pride Month as “Disability Precarity Month.”

In my time growing up in the USA’s Special Education system and seeking accommodations as an adult, I’ve seem conservatives refer to the ADA as “liberal fascism” and whine about the impact of the ADA on schools and small businesses (Link to the article). I’ve had libertarian relatives ask me why we really need the ADA, and why we can’t just trust the free market to winnow out inaccessible buildings, schools, doctors offices, etc. I’ve seen Democrats show up at disability voting events to make what are often token gestures to the disabled community, and Republicans not bother to show up at all. I’ve seen progressives treat the ADA as a “third class” civil rights issue that social justice discussion’s almost never address. I’ve seen progressives pit the money spent on disabled people’s needs against the needs of other disenfranchised groups, portraying disabled people’s basic accommodations as “privileges” that take money away from ablebodied poor people who need the money more. And, of course, this kind of thinking foments bitterness between disabled people and people of other disenfranchised groups, who should be working together to meet the needs of disabled people from those groups, and to pool our collective insights about how to improve the world for everyone.

I have contemplated whether maybe the disabled community should take the Benedict Option. Often the world’s treatment of disabled people is so bad, and seems so hopeless to me, that I really think the best idea would be for us to buy an island in the Pacific somewhere and set up our own society. Just think of it: Disabled People Island, where we can base policies off of the social model of disability, appoint a carefully selected oligarchy of disability justice thinkers to leadership positions, and set up accessible education, housing, transportation, worship, recreation and employment for everyone. Our society could be sure that we keep intersectional justice in mind. We could honor the voices of LGBT persons and BIPOC people with disabilities and create social policies that meet their needs (Link to article). We could work with clergy who have training in disability justice and theology to make sure that disabled people have a breath of accessible faith communities to choose from (Link to article). We could have hospitals staffed by disabled doctors and doctors of all abilities who are trained to provide effective, person-centered healthcare to all disabled patients. We can have schools with the highest pedagogical standards for instructing disabled young people. And, while autonomy would certainly play an important role in this society, we would focus policies primarily on the values of love, justice and equality.

Since setting up a separate society is not practical (after all, people in the disability justice community aren’t saints either), we in the human community need to do what we can to make this world better. And, I firmly believe that we can do that. I have met people from all over the political spectrum who do care about disabled people and our rights; mentoring from allies with all different kinds of belief systems has essentially saved my life. Historically, there has been bipartisan action to advance disability rights; the Americans with disabilities act, for instance, had both Democratic and Republican sponsors. People from all over the political spectrum are disabled or have disabled relatives and friends. In these last few days of disability pride month, 

I want to exhort the EPC blog’s readers to remember that opposition to assisted suicide is only one disability justice issue. Please make sure you’re doing what you can to mentor, empower and employ people with disabilities, both those you meet in your communities and in respect to the public policies you support. Listen to disabled people and make decisions that put our needs first.

(Unless you are one of the people proudly making a living killing disabled people or advocating for those policies; then you can go cackle in a dark tower where villains belong.)

Happy Birthday, ADA!

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