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Should the Disabled Expect and Demand the Same Rights and Access Everyone Else Has?

ADA
Crippen Cartoons

I am disabled. I walk with a cane at all times, and I often have to use a wheelchair or motorized cart. This has been the case for me since 2009. For the longest time, I just walked with a cane, but over time, as my body and mobility slowly deteriorated, I started using a wheelchair if we were going to be out and about for any length of time. In February 2020, due to increasing physical and cognitive problems, I stopped driving automobiles. Later in 2020, I swallowed my enormous pride and used a motorized cart for the first time.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

The purpose of the ADA is as follows:

(1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(3) to ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in this chapter on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and

(4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.

Discrimination is described this way:

For purposes of subsection (a) of this section, discrimination includes

(i) the imposition or application of eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or any class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations being offered;

(ii) a failure to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless the entity can demonstrate that making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations;

(iii) a failure to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, unless the entity can demonstrate that taking such steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the good, service, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation being offered or would result in an undue burden;

(iv) a failure to remove architectural barriers, and communication barriers that are structural in nature, in existing facilities, and transportation barriers in existing vehicles and rail passenger cars used by an establishment for transporting individuals (not including barriers that can only be removed through the retrofitting of vehicles or rail passenger cars by the installation of a hydraulic or other lift), where such removal is readily achievable; and

(v) where an entity can demonstrate that the removal of a barrier under clause (iv) is not readily achievable, a failure to make such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations available through alternative methods if such methods are readily achievable.

Enacted into law in 1990 and amended in 2009, the ADA dramatically changed access to shopping, services, employment, and education that were previously inaccessible to people with disabilities. The law is not perfect. The ADA is littered with exclusions that allow businesses and churches to ignore the requirements of the law. Small businesses, in particular, are exempt from many of the law’s requirements. This is why I find it almost impossible to shop at stores in downtown Bryan and Defiance. Many of these businesses owners have no regard for people with mobility problems. Narrow store aisles and inaccessible restrooms make it impossible for disabled people to navigate their stores. So I don’t, choosing to do an increasing amount of shopping online.

Every two or three weeks, Polly and I, along with Bethany, drive fifty miles to Toledo to shop for groceries at stores such as Costco, Whole Foods, Fresh Foods, Fresh Tyme, and Meijer. All of these stores are required to follow the ADA (and they do, for the most part). As I navigate these stores (and others), I have a seat-level view of how the world looks to people with mobility-related disabilities. Things appear very different from a wheelchair or a motorized cart from how they look when you are walking freely on two feet. Even when walking with a cane, the world is very different from that of those unencumbered by haltingly navigating the store with a cane. When you walk with a cane, your mind and eyes are often focused on hindrances to your mobility; those things that could cause you to trip, stumble, or fall.

I could spend hours sharing stories about negative experiences I’ve had while shopping using a cane, wheelchair, or motorized cart. Sometimes, I will point out these issues to store managers or service employees, asking them to do better. For example, we love to eat the Texas Roadhouse in Findlay, Ohio. Great food and service. However, the restaurant stored chairs in a main walkway that required me to use a different egress that had a steep incline/decline (for me, anyway). I mentioned this to the general manager, and she quickly said, “you are right. I will have those chairs removed immediately.” And they have stayed removed.

Sometimes, store employees simply don’t pay attention to disabled people. Stockers at Meijer are notorious for leaving their stock carts in the middle of the aisles. Sometimes, I will educate them, suggesting they move their carts to one side of the aisle or the other. Other times, I will just sit there, waiting for them to get my hint. Some never do. I have mentioned this problem to Meijer management, but no changes have been made (even though this is a violation of the ADA). Several weeks ago, we were shopping at Fresh Tyme in Toledo. I was using a motorized cart. I stopped by the meat counter to buy some steaks, shrimp, and fish. I was parked three feet or so away from the counter. When the employee asked who was next I said, “I am.” However, he ignored me. He couldn’t see me due to the fact that he was standing directly in front of the scale. I politely (but secretly irritated) said, “if you move over a bit you can see me.”

disabled people
Crippen Cartoons

Here’s the question I want to answer: Should people with disabilities expect and demand the same rights and access everyone else has? Some disabled people say, YES! ABSOLUTELY YES! They are the people on Friday nights at 5:30 pm who are bound and determined to drive their motorized carts down crowded aisles, inconveniencing disabled and non-disabled people alike. They are the people who will horizontally park their cart, making everyone have to turn around and go the other way. Such people are inconsiderate, showing no regard for other people. I have had more than a few terse words with such people. I may be disabled too, but I pay attention to my surroundings and try to stay out of the way of other people. Granted, that same care is generally not shown to disabled people. I’ve had countless people walk in front of me, bump into me, and otherwise rudely and selfishly impede my path. Sometimes, I will say something, but most of the time I just curse loud enough under my breath that they hear me. One night years ago, we were leaving Great American Ballpark after a Reds baseball game. One of my sons was pushing my sorry ass back to the car. As we were crossing the crosswalk, a car sped up, trying to get by us before having to stop. They were unable to do so, so they stopped their car inches from my wheelchair. I showed my disapproval with a few choice swear words, and then, much to my son’s horror, I thumped their car with my cane. The driver wisely stayed in his car. I know, I know, not a good idea, but sometimes, I get tired of assholes showing no regard for me. I’m sure my sons, daughter, and Polly will have more than a few “Dad and His Wheelchair” stories to share at my funeral.

Unlike the aforementioned disabled people, I do not expect and demand the same rights and access everyone else has. I expect reasonable accommodations. I know the world will never be a level playing field for disabled people. Many things can be easily changed, and should be. Other changes might be prohibitively costly or impossible to do. During the summer, I attend dirt track races at Limaland Motorsports Park with my sons. We like to eat dinner before going to the races at Kewpee — a 50s-style hamburger joint. Their store on Allentown Road is not well-suited for disabled people. The seating is way too small, and it’s impossible to use the restrooms (unless you drop your pants outside of the door and back into the small closet-sized restroom). I don’t expect the owners of Kewpee to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their store ADA-compliant. Now, if and when they build a new store they will be required to follow ADA regulations. Moving to an ADA-compliant world will take decades. That doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t be challenged to do better, but lasting change takes time (and the ADA itself needs improvement).

More than a few readers of this blog are mobility challenged. What are your thoughts about what I have written? Do you have horror stories to share? If you are an able-bodied adult, how do you view the disabled people you come in contact with when shopping or in other places where the public gathers? Please share your pithy thoughts in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    I’m able-bodied, so far. Hopefully, this will last for a while. My folks are in their late 70s and early 80s and still get around fairly well, despite some spinal stenosis and my dad’s COPD. I will admit that it does frighten me to think I could lose my ability to get around easily.

    I find, as you mention, that there are considerate disabled people and inconsiderate ones, rather like abled bodied people. I try to be of service if someone is unable to reach something in a store because I would hope that someone would take the time to help me if I needed it. And if someone is being a jerk, in any case, I’ll mention it.

  2. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    As the majority of the population from the baby-boomer times ages out, conditions continue to improve somewhat, not necessarily because we are progrssively becoming less dull but because baby-boomers are still a strong advocate for themselves in sheer numbers and cash. It may be that our numbers (the over 65’s) are diminishing, possibly under 20% of the population now but we advocate for ourselves and we have money to spend (even if it is borrowed on real-estate holdings). AND lots of our lawmakers are old farts with signing rights!
    As for you and your big stick, Gerencser, behave your bloody self and stop assaulting the vehicles of sports fans! If I was your son pushing that w/c out of a game venue, I’d threaten you with a jab of Haldol if you misbehaved! Jesus Christ! And to think you used to play for the Prince of Peace Patriots!

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I try to be considerate of people with disabilities and parents with strollers. Both groups sometimes can benefit from having a door held open if there aren’t automatic doors.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I am able-bodied and, like Clubschadendreude, hope to remain so. Two of my neighbors are elderly and use walkers. They have my mobile number and I occasionally help them. A few months ago, I was walking with one of those neighbors from a store. A young man looked really annoyed that he had to take half a step out of his way. I politely said, “Excuse us.” “Fuck you,” he huffed as he shoved the walker. I was about to punch him but my neighbors pleaded, “No!” I protested that nobody should behave as that young man did. “You’re right,” my neighbor sighed. “But I don’t want you going to jail.”

    Even here in “progressive “ NYC, that incident is far from the only instance of disregard for the disabled I have witnessed. There’s also bureaucratic indifference. Four years ago, my local subway station was “modernized.” So we’re the ones immediately before and after it on our line. The stations certainly look nice. But there are no aids, not even escalators or gates that remain open long enough for someone in a wheelchair or walker to pass through. Also, I can see how the Metrocard vending machines can be difficult to use for disabled people.

    Brian has a point: We, boomers, can change things just by our sheer numbers. I am in AARP, but not Social Security/Medicare, territory. (Ok,
    I’m closer to the latter than I’ll admit!) And,
    partly because of my neighbors, and partly because I’m a member of a discriminated-against group, I think I’m more sensitized to what disabled people go through, if I do say so myself, and try to help when I can.

  5. Avatar
    BJW

    I did see a scary thing several years ago when I was working at Sears. I was near the back exit and I saw a woman with an older woman, presumably her mother, start to cross the parking lot. Well, the parking lot had a big crack in it and the walker the older woman used was rickety, so she fell down. I rushed out, reassured both women and then rushed back into the store to get more help. I think an ambulance had to come check her over. If the goddamned parking lot had been properly taken care of, that wouldn’t have happened! Very upsetting.

  6. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I am better off than you are mobility wise. My balance is bad so I walk with hiking poles. I broke my ankle earlier and had to have surgery to fix it. My husband worries that I will fall again and break something else.

    I also have another disability. I developed carpal tunnel problems (this makes your hands feel numb or have tingling this can wake you up) when working as a computer programmer (or what every that position is called these days). Carpal tunnel usually occurs in people who type and mouse all day. I got caught between Workers Comp and Kaiser Permanente on who would work with me on this. Finally I got surgery for one hand.

    However, I was told by the Workers Comp people that I had to take 10 minute breaks every hour. Luckily I worked for the State of Colorado at that time which would have made it messy to fire me. Luckily I made it to my retirement age and left.

    Data Processing (or Information Systems or whatever it is called now) is terrible at helping their workers. I looked up computer programmers and the average age to “retire” is 35. Certainly no one over 40 is wanted.

    Do you have any ideas about how to make Data Processing have to follow the rules like everyone else?

    Thanks

  7. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Two people I knew opened my eyes to the problems the disabled have in everyday life. One was a friend who had cerebral palsy, and the other was an older man who had to use a wheelchair. Doing things with them made me much more aware of the obstacles the disabled have to face. Even holding a tray at the cafeteria was not easy for my friend with cerebral palsy. Folks need to be understanding and sympathetic towards the disabled, and also realize that us “abled” ones may very well be disabled ourselves one day.

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Bruce Gerencser