College, George Orwell, and the ADA

Working at a college or university when you have a disability is like a waking dream, one straight out of Orwell. Each day you arrive at your office only to find the lock has been changed. You look for assistance but no one knows anything. Someone suggests there’s an empty office down the hall you can use.

The next day you return and the new office is locked. You look for assistance but no one knows anything.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Mostly the administration of your college thinks of the Americans with Disabilities Act as what they like to call “an unfunded mandate” an utterance I often hear as “an unfriended manatee” but that’s just me. You will imagine your own version I’m sure. “Unfounded mandrake”; “unfiended mandible”—all variants are diverting.

In any event, Orwell again: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

There is no such thing as an unfunded mandate. The term has always been “doublethink” which as the master said, means “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

No building or sidewalk is unfunded. Period. And thinking of civil rights as a mandate casts equality as a foreign idea—one that’s not our own. It’s a deeply offensive idea. “We’re forced to let these people in…” is its signature.

So yes, if you’re disabled and you study at, or are employed at a college or university there’s a good chance you will often feel like an “unfriended manatee.”

Jokes aside the “unfunded mandate” is a sinister phrase.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

The disabled past is really what the saying holds on its nostalgic tongue. If you can imagine the disabled as not quite belonging you can also plan for a non-inclusive future—all the while controlling the present, by inaction and deferral.

Here’s another Orwellism:

“If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones.”

Accessibility doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re trained to dismiss it. That training requires you believe inclusion belongs in the future; that it’s time isn’t now, but surely it will come; but not today—today belongs to safeguard the small rules which are easy. Isn’t that the purpose of administration—ease, personal warmth, a nice little office…?

“You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

 

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