News Bites Gimps

 Raspberries for Raspberry

In our last News Bites Gimps, we wrote about the media drubbing given the airline regulation to help people with peanut allergies. The very idea had gotten pundits' knickers in a twist. Columnists were horrified that airlines might ban peanuts because of malingerers who had peanut allergies--another case of government catering to whiners.

Here's the second verse of the same song.

Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, an alleged civil rights supporter, stumbles upon a news story about Randy Tamez and uses the occasion to vent his spleen about all manner of disability rights.

On Nov. 2, had Tamez filed a formal complaint against the San Franciso Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission because the Commissions website documents, including bus and train schedules, are inaccessible to computer text readers, in violation of the ADA.

Tamez's complaint is one of the first filed against a Web site, wrote San Francisco Examiner technology writer Matt Baer in his Nov. 12 article ("San Jose man's complaint brings disabled issues to the forefront of the Net").

Baer seems to want to paint Tamez as a "complainer." Or perhaps he is merely following the typical 19990s style in reporting such stories. He notes other access complaints Tamez has filed, and brings up the cost issue. "San Jose State University has spent $1,083,850 on ADA-related campus improvements since 1993," writes Baer. A little later on he notes that Tamez has had "the help of a Social Security grant of $25,000" with which he has "outfitted his home with a high-speed desktop computer, a laptop and a voice synthesizer that read his computer screen back to him."

Whether or not it was Baer's approach to his story that hooked Raspberry we'll probably never know. But it's not surprising that the Examiner article, with its "blind people complaining" tone, spurred Raspberry on.

Baer called Tamez's complaint against the MTC "part of a growing mound of paperwork that is steering ADA regulations toward the Web." The "growing mound," it turns out, consisted of "two other formal complaints." No matter. Baer reports Tamez saying "We're taking over."

That's enough for Raspberry. He calls Tamez's complaint "a clear violation of common sense."

"Of course I sympathize with Tamez's difficulties. Who wouldn't sympathize with a 36-year-old guy suddenly rendered unable to see" writes Raspberry in his Nov. 16 Washington Post column, "Claims Against Common Sense."

"Blindness must be a terrible handicap, and I would applaud any genius who comes up with a device to make it less burdensome," writes Raspberry. But.

There's always a "but."

"But someone already has come up with something that works quite well for most of us: Web sites with lots of graphics, sound, video clips and such." Totally misunderstanding Tamez's complaint, Raspberry writes that Tamez wants "a return to a text-based system" that he calls "arguably less attractive for the rest of us."

Raspberry is outraged that a blind man's accommodation might inconvenience the rest of us, the normal folks No matter that he has misunderstood the entire problem.

"I hope you don't think I'm just being nasty to Tamez," he writes. But he's "been waiting nearly a year for a chance to be nasty to the disabled folk who complained about Rick Fink's nice-guy gesture," he says. Fink, with Wendy's (the Wendy's that were sued under the ADA; see "Wendy's hamburgers to remove barriers in DOJ settlement," D.R. Nation, Nov./Dec.) in what Raspberry interpreted as a kindly move, "positioned two regular tables near the door and marked them with the stylized wheelchair symbol." Raspberry wrote about this in an earlier column, and was outraged when disability activists dared to tell him he was mistaken and that Fink's gesture had only created "disabled ghetto."

"Get a grip," he wrote.

As long as it doesn't inconvenience normal people like us
"Look, I think the ADA is a terrific idea," Raspberry went on, calling "the wider doors, ramped entrances and roomy, handrailed toilet stalls" "a godsend for those who need them." They were "no skin off the noses of those who don't."

Accommodation was fine with Raspberry as long as it didn't disturb normal people. He praised reactionary pundit Charles Krauthammer, who happens to be a quad (and an Uncle Tiny Tim if ever there was one) for his praise of "the subtle ramping at Washington's Kennedy Center." Krauthammer evidently liked the ramp because it was "utterly unnoticed by others."

"What sparks my meanness," Raspberry explained, "is the insistence by some among the disabled that (1) their disability be accommodated and (2) that we take no notice of it." It's unclear why this so enrages Raspberry. Later on, he admits that he doesn't understand his own rage, either. But that doesn't stop him from showing it.

While he's on his anti-gimp soapbox, he bitches about "the people who insist on putting chair-lift devices on all public buses--even when relatively few wheelchair users are among the riders.

"Even though it can be significantly cheaper for local governments to furnish door-to-door transport by taxicab or limo than to retrofit all the buses," he writes. He's also pissed at "the deaf guy who wanted to discuss some controversy with a colleague of mine, using one of those phone devices that involve speaking to an intermediary who then teletypes the message to the caller's phone screen." Raspberry's colleague didn't have time for that; why didn't the deaf guy get a grip?

  "Raspberry is the one who needs to get a grip," wrote Post reader Beth Swedeen in one of two short letters published Nov. 21. Swedeen called Raspberry "narrow and ill-informed."

"William Raspberry does not understand," wrote Lila Laux. ""The technology for 'reading' the most sophisticated graphics is readily available, cheap and simple to implement. . . . Before he complains about someone's desire to have public information made available to the people who are, by law, entitled to that information, Raspberry should not assume that making information accessible necessarily imposes limitations on Web page designers."

Aside from these two responses, Raspberry's column has gone unchallenged.

Readers may recall firestorms created when columnists have criticized gays, blacks, or women's issues. Other columnists take up the cudgel. Stories by media critics appear in places like Time and Newsweek analyzing the furor. The columnist apologizes; or sometimes the columnist is forced to resign.

Hasn't happened with this Raspberry column, though. Nary a public peep.

Raspberry ends his column by saying he was "utterly unable to extract a useful principle from any of my resentments. Sometimes I'm happy for the accommodations our society is making for the 'differently abled.' Sometimes I think they ask too much or are ungrateful and whiny."

If ever there were a clarion call for the disability movement to define disability rights in the public agenda, Raspberry's column is it. The man doesn't have a clue. None of the disability rights thinking behind access and accommodation that we in the movement are so familiar with has ever been reported, in any sustained way, in the mass media.


Cure 'em or kill 'em--in prime time

Sunday, November 22:
Christopher Reeve's remake of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" airs on ABC-TV.
Jack Kevorkian offs Thomas Youk on CBS's "60 Minutes."

"Both. . . . reinforced and endorsed the view that death or a cure are the major methods of dealing with a disability. "

Harlan Hahn, professor of political science at the University of Southern California, writing in the Nov. 26 Los Angeles Times.

"It's time we all buy and wear an anti-euthanasia identifier."

Disability activist Mark Johnson, writing on the Internet.


Another 'ADA is bad' story in the business press

A story in the Nov. 9 Business Week reports that a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists K. Daron Acemoglu and Joshua D. Angrist shows that the Americans with Disabilities Act "seems to have actually reduced the employment of disabled people." The economists report that their analysis of Census Bureau survey data from 1987 to 1996 indicates that the act's impact on employment of the disabled was negative. The article, headlined "Dubious Aid for the Disabled," dismisses the possibility that figures are being misinterpreted. "The mandate for 'reasonable accommodation' of disabled employees can require costly investment in such items as special elevators. For another, employers may fear that disabled employees will be prone to sue them over wages or dismissal," says the short article.


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