So I Went to New York

New York City cab in motion

 

Going to “The Big Apple” offers me a fair slice of nostalgia for I used to live and work in the metro New York area and back in the year 2000 I was even (yes, hold onto your chair) I was even offered a job by Rudy Giuliani to direct the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. I chose instead to return to teaching and that’s the name of the song. I really didn’t want to work for the Giuliani administration. There was plenty of cathected heartlessness in that bunch.

My term for cathected heartlessness is “The Shackleton Effect”. When things got tight Shackleton and his crew shot and ate their dogs. That’s how it goes when things get tight. Nowadays we see plenty of evidence that our nation’s political culture has adopted the Shackleton Effect. In the Giuliani administration there was a lot of noise about putting welfare cheats back to work. Funny how lots of those folks were actually people with disabilities.

Today, just across the Hudson River Governor Christie has adopted a state budged that wipes out programs for the disabled. He doesn’t want to hurt the millionaires. And as New Jersey goes, so goes the nation. The Shackleton Effect is becoming legion.

Yes, I’m using dogs as a metaphor. Dogs are loyal and they depend on their human partners. Right about now I’ll venture that people with disabilities need all the human partners they can get–especially in politics.

So anyway, I went to New York. I spoke at the New York Public Library as part of a panel on the ADA. Remember the ADA? Everyone is remembering it this summer because this is its 20th anniversary. Yes it is good to remember the ADA. We’re all for remembrance.  But we’re also for the ADA “in the breach” or in the trenches.

Imagine my dismay when upon arrival at Newark International Airport late last Tuesday evening I was immediately denied a taxi ride. The driver in question, when confronted with the law, told me he didn’t give a shit. Said it right in front of the cab stand dispatchers and a long line of waiting customers. A guy behind me said: “Fuck, I’m not getting in that cab.” 

The nest morning I endeavored to call the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission only to find that their telephone number has been incorporated into a city-wide system called “311”. Apparently the idea is modeled on 911. The system is supposed to streamline city services. But Lo and Behold its also a Byzantine loop of messages and hang ups. I never did get in touch with anyone who might help me file a complaint.

I’m quite pissed off. In general I don’t like being pissed off. But my mind is skinned. I will file a complaint however meaningless it may prove to be. However long it takes me.

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It is hard to go places when you have a disability. The restaurant doesn’t have wheel chair accessible restrooms. The cab won’t pick you up. When you factor in the extraordinary unemployment rates for people with disabilities it leads one to ask: “Why go anywhere?” Indeed. Some days the whole matter seems hopeless.

To paraphrase Allen Ginsberg: “America I’m putting my crippled shoulder to the wheel.”

I guess that’s why I keep writing this blog.

 

**

Writing a blog feels a bit like being an old style Ham radio operator. Is anybody out there? “Come in, Rangoon!”

 

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I believed (with ardor) that the Americans with Disabilities Act would usher in a thrilling new era of employment opportunities for people with disabilities in this country. I was only 35 years old when the ADA was ratified and signed into law. I suppose you could say that I was just young enough to be uplifted by the adoption of a sweeping civil rights law. Young people are necessarily idealistic and thank heaven for that fact.

Still, 20 years later I can see how the organized “disableism” of corporate and cultural forces have worked assiduously to undermine the ADA and to further ensure that people with disabilities remain largely unemployed.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has been so hostile to disability rights that Congress had to create legislation to restore the employment discrimination oversight powers of the ADA.

Disableism is in my view the organized and determined use of power to prevent people with disabilities from becoming full members of society.

I believe along with tens of thousands of other people who have disabilities that the highest court in our land is guilty of disableism.

Justices like Antonin Scalia believe that people with disabilities should be grateful just to be carried up a flight of stairs when there’s no ramp available in a federal building. You can look it up.

Disableism is still rampant long after the ADA.

Shame on our Supreme Court. Shame on employers who set back the cause of employment for people with disabilities.

In this month when disability rights advocates are blogging about the anniversary of the ADA I want to remind cyber space that the work for inclusion is perhaps even more critical now than it was when the ADA was first conceived. Remember, Governor Chirstie is taking books away from the blind and physically disabled in the Garden State.

Disableism is alive and well in the halls of government. Governor Christie does not believe in the rights of people with disabilities. He thinks cripples are on the dole. Such people are shameful, and I still believe that these politicians are out of step with our nation’s sense of fairness.

This is why I’m getting a crick in my neck while typing at this little laptop on a beautiful day.

 

S.K.

0 thoughts on “So I Went to New York

  1. Writing specifically about employment for people with disabilities, is there discrimination? Oh yes, absolutely. I’d like to know better how much discrimination exists. In fact, there is a lot more information about employment for people with disabilities that I’d like to know. New data being gathered since 2009 will start to provide a better statistical picture ( http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15&SubTopicID=177 ) It would be helpful to know, for instance, how much other concomittant disabilities and education affect employment stats for people with vision impairment compared with the overall potential workforce. I’d love to know, also, more precisely where employment is being obtained. What is the breakdown of job classifications, and in what sectors of the economy are people obtaining employment compared to other sectors of the workforce. The more reliable data that is obtained, the more accurate a picture will emerge for the discrepency between employment for people with disabilities compared to the overall workforce.
    I wonder if part of the discrimination is concern by companies that provide employee health benefits over the need to hire a workforce that has greater potential to under- rather than over-utilize healthcare. I.e., employers may be less inclined to hire people who have any visible disabilities, out of concern that these people may also have more potential for other health concerns. Yep, that’s unlawful discrimination, but do we think that it doesn’t happen anyway? Healthcare premiums are becoming a major consideration in employee compensation packages. Single payer healthcare would have addressed this, but even when healthcare reforms are in place, this will still be an issue.
    Advocating for employment for people with disabilities in some ways is taking the high and righteous road. However, in your case, SK, as a person with a disability, and in my case, as a rehab professional, we are in many ways simply doing what everyone else is doing: Looking out for our own self-interests. Should you report that cab driver who refused to let your guide dog in the cab? Oh, absolutely. But it would also be interesting to sit down and talk with the driver about his reasons for turning down the fare. His reasons may be based in ignorance, arrogance, but possibly for other reasons, too, which, while still breaking the law, might engender sympathy even from a hardcore disability advocate. My understanding of the cab driving business in L.A. is that drivers can actually lose money on a day’s work. It’s a phenomenally competitive business. In the long run, the more everybody works at looking at all the perspectives that are involved, the better chance we have at working out solutions that work for everybody.

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  2. What to do? How not to grow increasingly bitter? How to retain some of that youthful idealism? Did you read the article in the NY Times recently about special education and the severely disabled? Did you read the comments — hundreds and hundreds of them?
    Holy shit, is what I say. (and thank you for keeping up the fight)

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  3. I’m here, it’s just my level of conversation is so far below yours.
    For example: I might go to New York in August to see a Barenaked Ladies concert. See? No “there” there.

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  4. The veneer of civilization is a hair thicker when stomachs are full, but only a hair. I call eating your sled dogs the Amundson effect, after the Norwegian who first brought the practice to wide public attention. Shackleton didn’t really plan to eat his dogs like Amundson, but after his ship was squashed in pack ice, eventually he looked to Roald for guidance. He should have looked to Sir Robert, and chosen to nobly freeze to death in his tent.
    Happy that you survived the Big Apple without having to snack on Nira in the interim. Fight the Good Fight!

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