Lacking public understanding

"I am not sure I have ever seen a single issue on which the media have been more unfair," writes American Council of the Blind President Paul Edwards in his "Who's Killing the ADA?" article in the August 1998 Braille Forum. "Sensational stories appear about the abuse of the ADA. There is no effort to report either on the fact that virtually all of these cases get thrown out of court or on the myriad instances of real discrimination that are everywhere."

Edwards' remarks sound remarkably akin to those of Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission released two reports on the ADA in October. (People interested in coming to our meeting on the media next May in Louisville might want to think about all this and fill out our interactive form.)

"The media also for the most part chooses not to report on the fact that enforcement has been made difficult by a combination of under-funding and bureaucracy," Edwards continues.

Edwards' message needs to be heard beyond the ACB membership.

"Enforcement is not perfect," he concedes. "But that problem certainly is not to be laid at the feet of the law."

Of course the ADA isn't perfect--no law ever is, he goes on. "It was passed in a political climate where some elements of it were weakened so that it could be passed at all!" Yet, he continues, "I don't think its too much of an exaggeration to say that people with disabilities were ashamed to ask for what they needed before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Readers will also want to read Duane French's "Northern Reflections on the ADA."

We couldn't help but think of our own experiences here at Ragged Edge when we read these troubling sentences from Edwards: "Finally, the truth is that people are not filing complaints. The only way to make the law take cognizance of the specific problems that people are having is to file complaints. It is just not happening." That, unfortunately, carries the ring of truth.

The pro-se form we published last issue may be starting to help people file complaints--or it may not. It was disheartening to notice that our offers for pro-se kits, announced in the July issue--for the price of $1 in stamps--went virtually begging. Fewer than a dozen readers asked for forms. That influenced our decision to print the form in the magazine last time--and of course we don't know how many of you plan to use it. We hope a lot of you do!

You can't force people to file complaints. A letter to the editor bears on this directly.

Speaking of the ADA: readers ask about the pro-se form we published last time: "can it be used for other laws, like violations of the Fair Housing Act?" The form we included in our Sept./Oct. issue, as you'll see when you read it, is written specifically for a Title III violation of the ADA. Any lawsuit can be filed "pro-se," which means "by oneself"--that is, without a lawyer. But it makes sense to try this method only with very clear, very simple violations. That's what this form is intended for. For more complicated cases, it is still really better for your outcome to involve an attorney.

"Jane Doe" writes of her days as a psychiatric worker. "The violent, suicidal or 'threatening' person would be physically restrained; dropped to the floor or bed and injected with Haldol or Thorazine. . . . We held the keys, the power." When Doe ends up as a "patient" herself, she discovers firsthand the "powerlessness, humiliation and fear that the patients under me must have felt." She has to "beg staff for pain medication."

People like "Doe" suffer even more from research they can never assent to or refuse (see our story) "Victims of dangerous research are almost always the politically vulnerable--the poor, people of color, people incarcerated in prisons and mental institutions," says Adil E. Shamoo.

"Research most often requires that some people get exposed to risk for the sake of knowledge that will benefit others," Alta Charo, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told The Washington Post's Rick Weiss in an Aug. 1 story. "But there are deeply troubling questions about the distributive justice of how we decide who will bear that risk and who will not."

The issue isn't using humans as guinea pigs; the issue is which humans--and why? It's not people who are well off, white and highly intelligent by common cultural standards who are being used in research, but people who can't say "no."

Disparate impact, we think it's called--though we're no attorneys. Still, we wonder: isn't this something the Americans with Disabilities Act ought to protect against? Go back and read that story.

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