JulyAugust, 1998
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Accessible single-family housing

I initiated efforts last year on two fronts to file federal legislation to provide access to single-family housing: either by amending the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act or by obtaining federal tax credits, similar to the new Georgia law ("Living in the Past," May /June).

I approached my congressman John Linder; his chief of staff said there was no public demand for accessible housing. Without pressure on his office, he will not respond. A later contact with Sen. Max Cleland's office was more rewarding. Sen. Cleland's staffer requested a tax credit budget analysis from other Congressional offices, and I recently received the response.

I am also trying to enlist Inspire at Georgetown Law Center to handle some of the legislative/legal work on the housing access legislation. Inspire represented me from 1974 to 1977 on the Cherry v. Mathews (DHEW) law suit that required the development and promulgation of the Section 504 regulation. The current Director of INSPIRE represented me during 504 days and they remain dedicated to working on disability issues.

Jim Cherry, Chair

If at first you don't succeed...

I have tried to point out to the manager of the resort-type complex in which I live that the non-disabled community should try to get along with the disabled folks in the area and do what they should be doing on access. I was not successful in my try.

Did I get discouraged and give up? No; I talked to the building and properties director who works for the manager. He agreed with me.

I tried to talk sense to the manager again, still with no success. He kept trying to tell me they were exempt from the ADA. He may have been technically correct, but it angered me. I brought him numerous documents and codes, but he told me he wasn't going to do it.

I called the local building inspector and talked with him for awhile. He told me he would call the manager - I told him he might do better to call the properties director. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from the properties director, who told me they would be starting to build a ramp to the activities building within a couple of weeks.

If you really think you are right, keep after it!

Bob Tennant

Martin and disabled writers

"The Martin case gave us an opportunity to show non-disabled Americans the prejudice we see every day" ("Casey Martin - the Jackie Robinson of Disability?" May/June).

But did we take advantage of that opportunity to any extent? I saw piece after piece by nondisabled, non disability-identified writers, discussing the issue. I saw one letter to the editor from a disabled person, who made an off-the-wall point that didn't make much sense.

Why aren't disability leaders writing opinion pieces in our major newspapers on this kind of thing, or about the ADA cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court?

Joe Smith

Good question! Think about attending next May's media conference in Louisville (see ad, page 2) to discuss this and other media problems. - ed.

Pro se is the way ...
but we need training in doing it

Your recent coverage of the Department of Justice's spotty enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (March/April) really hit home. Last month, I finally received a response to a complaint I filed eight months ago against a local movie theater that has refused to install curbcuts, accessible restrooms or wheelchair theater seating. No surprises: after a "review of the matter," the Department decided not to pursue the complaint.

Even though my complaint wasn't worth their time, they did offer me some helpful suggestions on resolving the problem by myself, including "direct discussion with the business with whom you have a problem." Of course, if that had worked the first three times I tried it, I wouldn't have filed the complaint.

They also suggested contacting the Better Business Bureau about mediation (the DOJ's really big on mediation these days). Unfortunately, the BBB doesn't deal with complaints of discrimination or the ADA. Oops!

So, now what? I can't afford a lawyer every time a business decides to dig in its heels, and most lawyers don't want these cases when you can't even recover attorney fees, let alone damages.

It seems obvious to me, as it does to ADAPT's Mike Auberger, that pro se litigation could be the answer. I got a copy of Steve Gold's pro se form and it's pretty straightforward. But what happens after the case is filed? The prospect of actually going to trial can be awfully intimidating.

What we need is an all-out effort to educate disabled people about pro se litigation. The legal generals of our movement, like Mr. Gold, could spread the word through seminars at independent living centers, the disability press could publish a series of "how to" articles or a book, and the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund could create a pro se website. Instead of a handful of underachieving DOJ lawyers we could have thousands of enthusiastic enforcers.

If we're going to have to fight the ADA battle alone, it's time we started arming our troops.

Guy Fisher
Cleveland, Ohio

We've got a bunch of copies of Steve Gold's pro se form. To get one, send a stamped (32-cent stamp), self-addressed envelope to: Pro Se Form, Ragged Edge, P.O. Box 145, Louisville, KY 40201.

As for the other suggestions: Steve Gold? DREDF? What do you think about this? - ed.

Death in a Doorway

Thank you for "Death in a Doorway" (March/April) and your call for justice - 7 years later. No one can fight every single infraction.

Jo Holzer
Council for Disability Rights

Ignoring the ADA in New York City

Don't think for a minute that just because we got the ADA passed the fight is over. It isn't. We didn't fight for our disability laws to collect dust.

Here's what happened to me in New York City, but it could have happened anywhere: I noticed that an empty store in my neighborhood had been completely gutted and turned into a two-level beauty salon, with a downstairs at street level and an upstairs reached by a flight of stairs. I kept an eye on the construction and kept wondering how they were going to make the upper level accessible in line with the ADA requirements, since they never seemed to be installing a ramp or an elevator.

Finally I went in and spoke to the salon manager directly and asked him how someone like me, who cannot negotiate stairs, could access the upper level, which was obviously where the sinks for shampooing were being installed. "Don't worry," he said. "We have big strong men who will carry you up the stairs."

I then asked him how such a strategy conformed to the ADA requirements. He said his lawyers and the city inspectors had assured him his shop was in compliance with the ADA.

I wasn't convinced. So I filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Much to my surprise, I lost. The Commission said I could always wash my hair first at home and then go to the salon. They reminded me that there were other beauty salons in my neighborhood. Finally, they pointed out that to rule in my favor and require the salon owner to make the second floor accessible would be very costly and might even put him out of business.

They couldn't have cared less when I said that I wasn't interested in putting anyone out of business but was only interested in equal access.

I pointed out that all they had to do to be in full compliance was require the salon owner to install a portable shampoo station on the ground floor, but they didn't care about that either.

I remember how hard we all had to fight to get the ADA passed: sit-ins, demonstrations, testimony, presentations - and I have to say it breaks my heart to realize that all we did was get a law on the books that New York City has no intention of enforcing.

Maybe the New York City Commission on Human Rights needs to hire disabled inspectors to check out these complaints in order for us to get a fair hearing.

One thing is clear: our fight is not over. I implore all disabled people when they encounter discrimination to file complaints and keep filing until we get the ADA enforced. Alaw is only as good as its enforcement. If we don't hold their feet to the fire, who will?

Phyllis Rubenfeld, Ed.D.
New York City

Prostheses as weapons

I am a fan of pro-wrestling. Recently, a TV wrestling show "honored" two wrestling legends - one an older man who has a below-the-knee amputation due to a car accident. The color commentator started cracking amputee jokes as soon as this man came out. During the plaque presentation, the commentator got into the ring and ripped the man's prosthesis off and used it as a weapon against the other honoree!!

I couldn't believe it! I know that in pro-wrestling all action's pre-determined, so the man had to agree to this. That's not what bothers me. But the show's demographics are males between the ages of 12 and 18 - what kind of a message is this sending them? The same thing happened on the show a few years ago. I protested, but nothing changed. The World Wrestling Federation needs to see the error of their ways and apologize.

Angela Doan

Legalize euthanasia

I can understand that legalized euthanasia may and probably has been misused; however, for some folks it is what they want.

My godmother told me several years before her death that she belonged to the Hemlock Society and that she had an incurable cancer. She told me that when she could not take care of pain that she would use the "Hemlock."

I knew then, as I know now (having watched my mother-in-law die screaming with pain as she had for 4 months prior to her final hemorrhage) that pain treatment is at the best an unclear page in medicine. My godmother had her full mental capacity when she told me. It was her decision. It should be a person's decision, without family interference, legal interference, or hospital interference.

I agree that your stories show interference of the worst kind. Making things legal could remove some of the worst, because there could be penalties for interference. If a person is on life support, it is now a family decision to remove those electronic supports; however if a person is screaming with pain and knows that they do not have an iota of a chance for survival, leaving that person screaming is also an injustice of a terrible kind. Even so, it is that person's decision - not mine. I just want to make it legal for that person to die with dignity and as that person wishes. Without legality the picture may be even worse.

Marion R. S. Lorr

Virginia's "first wheelchair' and language problems

"Virginia has had its first black governor. We've had our first woman attorney general and now we'll have the first lieutenant governor in a wheelchair," Lt. Gov.-elect John Hager told reporters last fall when he won the election. Hager always announced his wheelchair right up front so business could go on.

The next morning, the Roanoke Times reported that Hager "has been confined to a wheelchair since he contracted polio in 1974." Poor wheelchair user, how could he have won, being so inferior he can't even walk? That's what was implied. WFIR Radio added to the insult by reporting every half hour that the "wheelchair bound" Hager had won. If he'd had freckles, red hair, glasses or ulcers, would that have been included in the report? I think not.

Karen Michalski, director of Roanoke's Blue Ridge Independent Living Center called the station to let them know the term wasn't in good taste. But the piece had already run and it wasn't re-done. She also wrote a letter to the newspaper.

Michalski sends guidelines on terminology to the media frequently. The ones she uses are from the Research and Training Center on Independent Living (4089 Dole Bldg., University of Kansas, Lawrence KS 66045, 913/864-4095; fax 864-5063) and cost 35 cents each. These guidelines are endorsed by over a hundred disability organizations; they list all disabilities.

Some tips: Don't magnify the disability; don't insult an ordinary human by seeing only wheels, a cane, a "speech impairment." People aren't "bound" with a rope to their wheelchairs.

Society needs to be taught manners about easy-on-the-ears ways to describe persons who have developed disabilities later in life or who were born with them. They have enough to deal with without being insulted.

Donna Garrett

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