The ADA @30: Essay Ten “Dear Friend”

Dear ADA@30:

There are so many things I wish you could hear but you’re made of wood. No wait that’s not quite right. A man can talk to trees. Hell, a man can even talk to a cheese. How do you talk to a law? 

We can only talk back to laws. Even while framing a law our speech sinks into the past. The illusion is that we’re going forward.

Dear ADA: you are a zen koan. We head to the future armed only with the past. Dear ADA we may have ideals but they’re nebulous and misty as when, answering a child’s question “what do you want for Christmas” you reply “oh, just give me universal peace.” 

ADA, now that you’re thirty, our wishes are still “claggy” as the British would say. The disabled are still in the fog. 

Some say it’s your fault but I’m not one of them. It’s not your shortcoming that some say you’re an “unfunded mandate” (a phrase so omnipresent it’s like spearmint chewing gum) and which means “we’re being forced to put in a disability accessible bathroom because we’re remodeling our local MacDonald’s franchise and there are no zero interest dollars by way of  loans, no help for us from “corporate” etc. 

It’s not your fault that those who call you “Old Unfunded” are the same people who oppose  federal and state social programs of any kind. 

It’s certainly not your fault that those you’re designed to protect are deemed burdensome and inconvenient by the Chamber of Commerce. 

If you’re judged by your enemies you’re doing good work my friend.

How do you talk to a law? 

The problem is that you’re latitudinarian rather than sectarian,  you’re Jeffersonian not Hamiltonian. You come from the liberal traditions of humanism. Perhaps you’re the last gasp of the enlightenment. For all I know better times are coming but in the rowboat I can’t see what’s ahead. We keep rowing. 

Dear ADA: the disabled and their allies are rowing just as you asked us to.

Yes, your foes still think you’re a newfangled guild of St. George, some utopian trick designed to ruin our nation’s currency by putting Braille on dollar bills. 

At a famous arts colony not long ago I complimented a staff member by saying, “hey, look! You put in an elevator so the disabled can get up and down the stairs!” “Oh,” he said, “they made us do that!”  

So much for disability as inclusion. You were again “Unfunded Mandate.”

It’s not your fault the abled classes still think cripples are inconvenient. 

It’s not your fault that Erving Goffman’s “stigma” sill permeates society. 

It’s certainly not your fault that as legal scholar Mary Anne Franks puts it, the US constitution is framed on a narrative faleshood: 

“America is built on a lie. That lie inheres in its foundational text, the Constitution of the United States, which begins in the false claim to speak of and for “we the people ” even as the majority of its population – in particular black men and all women – were denied access to the most basic forms of political participation. This act of simultaneous symbolic inclusion and material exclusion has never been fully acknowledged or confronted, which is another way of saying that it has never really ended. ”

Excerpt From: Sarat, Austin. “Law and Lies.” Apple Books. 

Dear Friend, these things are not your fault. 

You make it possible for the disabled to demand symbolic and material inclusion against so many odds.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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