Today I, along with all my brothers and sisters with disabilities in this country, have a reason to celebrate. Thirty years ago today, on July 26th, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. As he was doing so, he said: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
The ADA is a good thing. These days it is common to see ramps outside of restaurants and access at other places of business when that was not always the case. I can’t tell you how many times in my life a set of stairs has prevented me from doing what I wanted to do. Not so much anymore. The ADA also says, among other things, that it is illegal not to hire a qualified applicant who has a disability based on the disability. That means an employer cannot refuse to hire someone because they may need some kind of accommodation in order to work. I’ve always liked that because I have yet to meet a person with a disability who doesn’t want to work for a living.
As much as there has been significant progress made on the journey to inclusion, I still think we have a long way to go. Most people, in my opinion, could use a little work when it comes to their mindset about people with disabilities. The thing is laws can’t change minds. People have to do that for themselves.
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking my dog on the Burroughs Creek Trail near my house. I had some unexpected things that I had to deal with that morning so Levi and I set out quite a bit later than we usually do. It was a hot day and Levi is just a little guy, so I decided almost immediately that we were only going to go half of our typical distance. While I know we could have just skipped the walk because of the heat, I didn’t want to deprive Levi of the experience. He and I love that trail, and he loves to say hello to all the people we pass by. He just lights up when others on the trail interact with him. I wish I could be half as social.
We were almost home when a woman came out of her house and stopped me. She had a Tupperware full of water which she gave to Levi and then she proceeded to tell me that it was too hot for him to be out. She followed that by looking at me and said: “In fact, it is too hot for both of you to be out. The heat really isn’t good for you.” She said all of that before she introduced herself and asked me my name. Don’t get me wrong. I know her heart was in the right place and she thought was helping me. But I didn’t ask for her feedback.
Would she have stopped someone else on the trail with a dog if they had actually been walking by her house? Would she have told anyone else that she didn’t know that it wasn’t good for them to be out in the heat? What made her think it was okay to stop me and talk to me like that?
Last week I spent a few days in the hospital when a severe infection thought it had the upper hand. When it was time to go, my caregiver and I had a whole lot of stuff that needed to be taken out to his truck. A male CNA offered to help us. While Matt, my caregiver, went to get his truck and bring it to the circle drive where we were Mo, the CNA was quiet. As soon as Matt got back, Mo asked Matt “What is the best way was to get her in the truck?” Mo didn’t seem to think it was a problem that he was talking about me like I wasn’t even there even though I was actually sitting right in front of him. Did he not think I could talk him through the process? Does he not understand that I taught Matt everything he knows about how to help me transfer in a way that is safe and comfortable? Did Mo not think that I had an awareness of all the things that I need? Being so obviously ignored was monumentally frustrating.
Matt has worked for me for over a year now. Instead of answering Mo’s question, he said, “I am not the one that you are transferring into my truck. If you want information about Lorraine, you need to ask her.” Matt had to say something similar three more times in that conversation.
By the way, Matt is one of my heroes. Out of the hundreds of caregivers I have had work for me throughout the years I can probably count on one hand the number of them who have stood up for me like that.
When the day comes that people like Mo and the woman on the trail, and everyone else that I encounter routinely treat me with dignity, respect, and kindness, I will celebrate. When I don’t have to deal with ableism any more, I will break out the champagne.
That is the day I will truly feel like an equal.
I just hope it doesn’t take another thirty years.