May/June, 1998

The ADA, the home builders and analogies

"Could you please send me the pro se form attorney Steve Gold mentioned in your article about the Department of Justice?" someone wrote to us recently. The writer had just finished reading our March/April report on problems enforcing the Americans w ith Disabilities Act. Gold, who we interviewed, had suggested disabled people file their own lawsuits.

The investigative stories were interesting, said the reader who wrote to us, "but came as no surprise to us in the trenches." He'd "been messing with this stuff" for years, he said.

"This damn ADA law ain't worth the paper it's written on," he went on. "I was naive enough to think that it would be carried out the same way the Civil Rights Act had been, but noooooo. All the hotshot lawyers that the big boys can afford have blocked every attempt. The same people we elect to enforce the law are the ones blocking the enforcement."

Sounded pretty accurate to us.

We thought of our correspondent again as we read about the two ADA cases that just reached the Supreme Court (see pp. 26 and 33).

What our correspondent told us next was also of interest to us, in light of our cover story this time on the National Association of Home Builders' efforts to fight housing access.

Reporter Josie Byzek writes, "The NAHB went to Sen. Barbara Mikulski," (D. - Maryland), to insist that they shouldn't be required to follow the manual put out by a disability housing access group under contract to HUD which details the FHA's access requirements - because the manual "isn't the requirements" themselves. This kind jockeying and whining is typical of "the bad guys" our story details. Byzek reports, "Mikulski confronted HUD Secretary Cuomo, who said he'd recall all the books."

Our correspondent told us, " I drove from Baltimore to Annapolis to visit the aide for Senator Mikulski" assigned by the Senator to handle ADA concerns. "I handed her my information and then I asked her, 'Are you and the Senator aware of all the problems people are having with enforcement of the ADA?' Her response was, 'no.'

"It was the second time I had visited this lady," he writes. "My second visit was met with less enthusiasm than the first. She never really stopped to talk to me. She just sort of kept moving around doing other tasks while I talked."

An award for us
Our popular anthology, The Ragged Edge: The Disability Experience from the Pages of the First Sixteen Years of The Disability Rag, has been named an "outstanding book on the subject of human rights in North America" by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights. Order your copy today! Or you can order by credit card online

A discussion for you
Next May, a group of interested people, readers of Ragged Edge and others, will gather in Louisville to begin to discuss our movement's "media problem." There's an ad on page 26; more information will be coming in future issues. Mark your calendars and plan to come!

A woman from the public television series Point of View called. She was working on an "educational campaign around the broadcast" of Walter Brock's film "If I Can't Do It" which would air on POV July 7. The woman from P.O.V. was trying to figure out ways to get the information out to the disability community, and hopefully, she said, to set up some kind of discussion group between disabled people and the public in selected cities.

Weren't there organizations she should contact to get out the word, she wanted to know? We suggested the general media. But she clearly wanted to contact some disability groups. .

What about local ADAPT groups, we suggested? (ADAPT is featured in the film.) She could also contact independent living centers, we told her; there was usually one of those in every community.

What were they? she asked. We tried to explain, but it wasn't a familiar concept. Finally, in what we knew was a somewhat weak analogy, we compared independent living centers to "women's centers, or even spouse abuse centers, that help women." .

Oh!" The lightbulb had come on. Spouse abuse centers, women's centers - these were an understood concept: programs evolving from the women's movement, set up by women to help women. She'd never heard of independent living centers, she confessed. But she understood when we compared them to spouse abuse centers. .

We went on to discuss how the disability movement might respond to the film, and whether disabled people would want to meet with nondisabled people to talk about the issues. Some would, we said; others wouldn't - just like people in general.

What were disabled people like, she wondered. What did they think? .

We decided to use another analogy. "Take the gay rights movement," we said. There were radicals -. Remember Act Up? we asked her. Yes, she knew about them - there were moderates; there were conservatives. We told her that some people had compared ADAPT to Act Up. That helped her understand, she told me.

"Some gay people are still in the closet," we told her. "Others are 'out,' but would never march in a gay pride parade; they think those things are embarrassing. There are all ranges of opinion.".

Oh, she said. That had really helped her understand.

Making analogies with other movements, while it had serious limits, was a quick and easy way to achieve comprehension. .

We were carried along to the logical next thought: The reason it worked as often as it did was because people did understand - albeit sometimes only vaguely - the concepts of a "spouse abuse center" or "gay pride"; of being "in the closet," of being "out." For the movie In and Out to have worked at all, screenwriters knew the average moviegoer had to have a general understanding the concept of "in the closet." Those concepts had moved into general awareness.

Year after year, we use analogy - because year after year, our side is still so unfamiliar that we must use the more familiar movements as explanation. .

Because women's issues and gay issues are commonly discussed in society, certain ideas from those movements become understood, slowly and vaguely to be sure, but understood, nonetheless. Their alienness disappears. The concepts enter the mainstream.

After more than 20 years, shouldn't one be able to say "independent living center" and get the same comprehension from the average Jo as saying "spouse abuse center?" It doesn't happen. .


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