'Changing the Culture' ourselves

"What we need is a road show, like we had back in the '70s with 504," says attorney Steve Gold.

Gold was responding to a reader's query from our last issue. Pro Se was the way to go, said Edge reader Guy Fisher from Cleveland. But folks needed training (Letters, July/August). How was that going to happen?

Gold said the problem was money.

Today it's hard to fund trainings with an activist thrust using government dollars--and that's how it was done back in the 1970s. And it doesn't seem folks are looking for funding as much for these kinds of things. Gold says he'd be happy to come to any independent living center, or to any state--"or all 50 states" for a statewide coalition, if folks would bring him in and pay his expenses.

Gold added something else to Fisher's idea. We also "need a band of lawyers to go around the country and file lawsuits." He'd be happy to be part of that group too, he said.

But in the meantime Ragged Edge, at Gold's suggestion, is asking readers to take matters into their own hands.

In this issue we look at what ordinary citizens are doing to get the ADA enforced, and what they think about its chances for making it in the long term as our civil rights law. And we throw in a how-to-do-it section on filing a pro se suit. "There are literally thousands of cases that could be brought in every city" even picking the "simple ones," he said.

Gold worked with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities to develop the how-to pro se materials beginning on page 19.

Gold would like to see "a cadre of activists" in each city filing pro se suits. He knows it's a "stopgap solution"--but "there's no money to pay attorneys," he says. "If attorneys were taking these suits in large numbers, it might not be as necessary."

But even if attorneys wanted to take the suits, the pro se route has its advantages. "Doing pro se in your city--getting several people to do it--can have a powerful effect," says Gold.

What you have with pro se is "the disabled person talking directly to the judge, saying, 'all I want is to get in that building.'

"That changes the culture about disability," he says. "When I bring the suit, the judge doesn't want to see the crip, he wants to deal with me, attorney to attorney. If judges get three or four crips in front of them, trying cases; if a judge gets seven or eight cases like this, they begin to understand the issues differently"--which is what Gold means by "changing the culture about disability." "The fact that the disabled person is serious enough about her access to go to court, on her own, will make a powerful impression on the court."

Truth stranger than Ragged Edge column?

We were either prescient or ignorant when we suggested, in our last issue, what might happen if someone in the media suggested gays seek a cure for homosexuality ("A summer exercise for the imagination," July/August). We were trying for an outrageous example to point out that lots of outraged response from gays would appear in the media were such a thing to happen.

But we were truly ignorant that such a campaign was in the works. Not from Rep. Barney Frank, of course, but from anti-gay conservatives, forming a coalition for what they called a "Truth in Love" campaign. It was unleashed on the public via full-page ads in a number of national newspapers in late July, including the New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. The ads suggested that gayness could be "cured"--or, to use their terms, that "homosexuality is behavior that can be changed."

And the predictable--predicted by us, in fact--happened. Opinion pieces, articles, outrage, more articles, more columns, from gay activists and supporters condemning the campaign.

Meanwhile, the National Organization on Disability released data from its latest Harris poll showing that even fewer disabled people are working than thought; that just over half know about the ADA, that we're the poorest group in the U.S. . . .

There was just one story on it in the national news. Just one (in the Washington Post). Go figure.

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