I want you to help me. I don’t want your help. The push-pull of disability, the Pollux and Castor, a civic constellation. “Help me,” doesn’t mean we need you able bodied citizens to become Boy Scouts who escort us across streets; doesn’t mean “pity us” or by turns imagining we’re somehow inspiring. Thirty years after the ADA “help me” means picturing new ways of doing things. It also means accommodations for the disabled are reasonable so let’s stop pretending otherwise.
“Who pretends otherwise?” Why would anyone be opposed to providing the disabled with reasonable accommodations? What is a reasonable accommodation? Let’s look:
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”)(1) requires an employer(2) to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.”(3)
Perhaps no bigger transformation in the lives of the disabled has ever happened. The very idea that it’s reasonable to modify basic workaday structures and appurtenances was radical and remains so. Few people understand that disability is a product of the industrial revolution with its vast reorganization of labor. The advent of dark Satanic mills lead to the valuation of labor ready bodies. The factories of the 19th century redefined the value of bodies just as they exacted standards of physicality. What’s the Castor to the factory’s Pollux? The asylum. The disabled were stripped of civic and economic value in the early 19th century. Rather than modifying the work environment why not warehouse those with physical or neurological differences?
We shouldn’t forget what a radical concept “reasonable accommodation” truly is. It is reasonable to provide the blind with Braille signage or technical adaptations. It’s reasonable to provide a bank clerk with lupus a tall stool to sit on and modified work breaks. Reasonable to provide deaf employees with supportive technology. The provision of these things does not induce undue hardship. They’re not expensive. As a blind employee I can’t demand my own jacuzzi on the roof. I can ask for a talking computer.
I say that reasonable accommodations are revolutionary and they’re the antidote to pity.
This begs the question “why would any employer fight reasonable accommodations?”
Consider most recently the story of Dominos Pizza which cried foul when a blind customer demanded that their website and phone app be usable by those with vision impairments. I want to streamline this: the blind use screen reading software to access digital sites. In turn websites need to be written with the proper coding to allow the computer or phone to talk. This is really simple. I kid you not. Making an app or website accessible to the blind costs next to nothing.
Dominos took their umbrage and hostility all the way to the US Supreme Court. They lost. Turns out even the pro-business Supremes saw through the ruse: Dominos website is in fact a public space and most therefore be accessible. Moreover, Domino’s spent more money fighting the blind than they’d ever have spent making their website and app friendly for the blind, Reasonable means reasonable.
When a business fights the ADA its resistance generally speaks to why the law had to be adopted in the first place. In shorthand: it’s easy to include the disabled in the workplace. It’s inconvenient for some to have to think about it. Reasonable accommodations are not inconvenient, They do require imagination. I know of an agricultural studies student who used a wheelchair. Her university easily modified a tractor so she could ride it. With imagination and a can do spirit you can do almost anything where disability is concerned. And yes, the tractor modification was cheap.
Another way to put this is I don’t need help crossing the street. I do need help using your bank machine if it’s not blind friendly. Only unimaginative built environments trigger my need for assistance. I don’t want your help. I want to use the damn device.
Dominos argued that the blind could call up their stores and have staff read them the menu options. Imagine that. Why does the app exist? So you can do it yourself. I’ll just say that if you call a Domino’s, tell then you’re blind, and ask them to read their entire menu and the prices they’ll hang up on you.