Attitudes? Discrimination!

An article published last Thursday on the New Standard news site last week has been sent to Ragged Edge by lots of folks with lots of agendas. New Standard's site says it's been their most-emailed article for awhile now.

In the article, Attitude, Not Cost, Barrier to Disabled Workers, reporter Catherine Komp quotes a number of disability regulars, including the American Association of People with Disabilities' Andy Imparato:

"Most disabled people would tell you that the bigger concerns they have around the workplace are not around physical accessibility," said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "They’re more around attitudes. I think it’s easier to legislate and see change around bricks and mortar than it is around attitudes."

Well, uh, that may be true as it goes. But there's more to it.

We've heard from a number of folks irritated that spokespeople like Imparato always sing the praises of jobs jobs jobs as a panacea -- our emailers point out that not everybody with a disability actually can hold down a fulltime job, accommodation or no. Instead of suggesting that every disabled person can and should work, shouldn't disability spokespeople be trying to get society to understand that even a person who cannot work has a right to dignity and access?

A fair point, and one that doesn't get aired anywhere near enough.

Then there's this other side, which I think Komp's article tries to get at, with only middlng success: There's a heck of a lot of discrimination around. "Attitudes" has always struck me as a kind of Casper Milquetoast way of saying "discrimination." You know, prejudice. Bigotry.

Mean-spiritedness. Just don't want to hire disabled people because they just don't want to hire them. And they're going to find some way of avoiding hiring them, law or no law.

A long-accepted mantra from the civil rights movement tells us that while change in attitude can't be legislated, you can force behavior change through legislation -- if it's enforced. Civil rights activists back in the day knew that you couldn't change a white bigot's attitude -- racism, it was called, not "attitudinal barriers" -- but you could force the white bigot to let you sit at his lunch counter. Or ride at the front of his bus. Or go to his school alongside his lily-white kids. You could change behavior. The belief was that once behavior changed, attitude change might possibly follow.

That it didn't happen the other way around.

We seem to forget that a lot in the disability rights movement.

The article by Harlan Hahn which has just been posted on Ragged Edge reminds us that employers will try all sorts of things to get rid of disabled employees -- employers in this case being universities. And speaking of universities, as if we needed a reminder that they might not be all that keen about accommodating their disabled -- faculty or students -- Monday's Washington Post brings us the story of the suicidal teen whom Georget Washington University tried to get rid of lest he cause them problems:

For an excellent lesson in how not to respond to serious depression, consider George Washington University's handling of the case of former student Jordan Nott.

Mr. Nott, then a sophomore, checked himself into the hospital one night in 2004, saying he was considering suicide. Within days, as Post staff writer Susan Kinzie reports, the university informed him that he faced charges of "endangering behavior," which violated student rules and could lead to his suspension or even expulsion. In addition, pending adjudication of the "charges," the university notified him that he had been suspended on an interim basis. . . .

Here's the whole story from The Post. George Washington University's student paper has also covered it. (interesting stuff from the student reporter here as well). Read Hahn's article about "risk management" and "moral hazard," then read this, and see if you don't see sort of a pattern.

And good for the Washington Post for this editorial saying it like it is.

March 14, 2006 | Email this story


Comments (newest comments at bottom)

Attitudes? You nailed it - a kind of Casper Milquetoast way of saying "discrimination." Although, I wouldn't say the problem is entirely one of discrimination in the sense of employers being uncomfortable around people with disabilities. While that's certainly an issue, I think that cost is the largest factor. Not even realistic cost, just fear of cost. Employers are afraid to hire people with disabilities because they fear they will then actually have to make their workplace accessible. They might have to renovate a bathroom, change the height of a desk, etc. Employers of this type are normally too ignorant to know what the reality of what might be expected of them, so their fear prevents them from hiring people.

Another problem is medical benefits. They don't want the cost of their insurance going up because some gimp is sucking up all the coverage.

Another problem is liability - they're afraid of being sued. I've been fired for being a liability (of course, a bs reason was used to mask the real reason). My employer thought that since I had a back problem, I may get injured on the job and sue him. I didn't sue the company for discrimination because a lawyer told me the only thing I would get out of it was my job back, which I didn't want after that. I should have, but hindsight is 20/20.

One more reason is that employers are afraid that people with disabilities will take too many days off, or get injured or sick to the point where they won't be able to work anymore, and they'll have wasted the employer's time and energy.

God Bless America, where everyone is equal, right?

It is reprehensible that there is discrimination in schools, but it's there too. It has exhausted me my entire life, fighting to have equal opportunities and access in school. I've encountered every barrier there too, from my high school gym teacher complaining loudly so I could overhear, "Why do I always get stuck with all the cripples!?" to the disability services office at my college telling me that not having a automatic door opener to a building wasn't a problem, because "in the fall there'll be a lot of people around to open the door for you".

I can't believe the idiots at Georgetown that tried to get rid of a kid for being suicidal. Like that's going to help his depression! Instead of their first instinct being to offer to help him, they kick him out. How do people like that sleep at night?

Good post, thanks Ms. Johnson. You keep fighting the good fight!

Posted by: The Angry Gimp on March 15, 2006 04:14 PM

I have been a disability activist for over thirty years . We are still debating the same issues that we were debating when I first came into the field. With The American with Disabilities Act we have upped the debate but that is about the entire impact to date. The disabled rights movement is like an ongoing soap opera -- the faces change but the dialogue remains the same. You can leave and reemerge ten years later and the scene will be pretty much the same.
I don't know the answer and I have come to think maybe there is no answer, that we can change the dialogue but we can't change people. The story of the Disabled Community is written individual by individual. Many people go a lot farther and do a lot more in a life with a severe disability. Their success is reflective of the environment the person comes from.
If we accept there is little new in the world we will come to better understand our history as people with disabilities.

Posted by: Gary Roberts on March 17, 2006 10:08 PM

Is it GWU, or Georgetown? Please get it right, as you're hurting the name of a university that probably doesn't deserve it by using both.

Posted by: Gordon K on March 18, 2006 12:04 AM

Oops! My bad! Yes, it was GWU, of course, not Georgetown. Thanks for catching that. I've now changed the text above.

Posted by: Mary Johnson on March 18, 2006 07:15 AM

Noted that it's GWU.

Posted by: The Angry Gimp on March 19, 2006 02:55 PM

As a PWD who is unable to work as a result of disability, and not discrimination, I have perhaps another perspective on this "attitudinal barrier" issue. When I was finally correctly dx'd, I had no problem qualifying for SSI, as I had a 20 year history of trying to work, and being unable to do so.

My last position, my boss even let me bring my dog to work, and at that time my dog was not a service dog, as no one knew, nor did I, that I was a "qualified" PWD. Still, even with the most flexible schedual, the dog, and the help of my son, who would come to the job place to assist me, I was simply unable to "perform meaningful work."

Although I am physically disabled, as it is "hidden," most folks "believe" I am mentally ill, and treat me as though I were "crazy." They "believe" that if I am crazy, I therefore have no legal rights, and In fact here in cambridge MA, the human rights ordinance states quite clearly that if someone is legally "incompetent" they do not qualify for human rights. They are specifically exempted from civil rights protection afforded other PWD's!!

Here in Cambridge MA, the ADA coordinator had great difficulty understanding that someone who was neither blind nor paralized could possibly be considered disabled! His attitude was as bad as those who are "able bodied, and right minded."

Recently I was told by a City Councillor that "compliance" with the ADA is a budget buster! Here we have the repairing of curb ramps where the City spends thousands, if not millions of dollars "fixing them wrong!" Meaning that after $25,000-$40,000 in curb ramp repairs at one intersection, it remains inaccessable, and just lying in wait for a lawsuit!

I say, graft, not compliance is the budget buster!

Posted by: Kathy Podgers on March 27, 2006 12:18 AM

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