The meaning of disability
by Bill Stothers.
Bill Stothers is editor of Mainstream magazine.
Who is disabled?
What does it mean to be disabled?
The U.S. Supreme Court says the ADA does not cover people with correctable conditions. In other words, if you have poor eyesight and thick glasses will enable you to see, you don't qualify for ADA protection.
So, you can be disabled enough to be fired, but not disabled enough to have ADA protection.
I once worked for a newspaper in a big city. There was a reporter there, a talented guy, who quit to do something else. A few years later, he returned. We were all set to rehire him. Then he had a medical and was found to have high blood pressure. He was history.
Now this was before the ADA. It was funny because I had developed high blood pressure on the job at the paper. Newsrooms can be high-stress pressure cookers. I was on blood-pressure medication. But under this Supreme Court ruling I could have been shoved out the door.
Think about it. Think about all those millions of ordinary Americans who have high blood pressure today. If I were them I would begin to feel nervous.
They and a lot of others with "correctable" conditions are vulnerable as a result of these rulings. It all comes back to "who is disabled?", and "what does it mean to be disabled?"
The immediate reaction is to crank up movement resources to clarify the ADA. We're dynamite at getting laws passed. Let's just fix the ADA, make it crystal clear what we're talking about.
That would be a disastrous mistake.
We're good a legislative crafting, but the wolves are waiting with bared fangs. The hostile forces have been sniping at the ADA ever since it passed nine years ago. They are just itching for a chance to open up the ADA to make their own "fixes" to it.
We need a strategy to articulate a simple and powerful message about the real meaning of disability. It's just a natural part of life and those of us with disabilities can, with accommodation, function well in society.
We need a message that we can use to build a broad public consensus in support of creating an accessible society for all people. Putting a hold on making a campaign for a legislative quick fix is tough to do, but without public support we will have a difficult job achieving our goals.
The movement has recently begun to focus on the media as a way to get the word out about disability rights. Let's not abandon this initiative. Let's intensify the effort.
Back to July/August 1999 table of contents