Civil Rights for People with Disabilities vs. “The Usual Suspects”

Right now, even as we drink our coffee there are powerful forces working overtime on Capitol Hill. I like to call these forces “the usual suspects” because I love the old TV series “Dragnet” and also because it takes too long to type all the acronyms of the various business and human resources lobbying groups that have assembled to fight the “ADA Restoration Act”. Oh yes, and there are prominent corporations opposed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.

The Usual Suspects are opposed to the legislation because it would require that employers actually make reasonable accommodations for employees who have disabilities—rather than allowing said Usual Suspects to proclaim that these accommodations are wildly unreasonable. Why, By Golly! even reassigning a disabled employee to a different but equal job is an undue burden on said Usual Suspect. Enter the extraordinary, well funded, hence powerful Allied Usual Suspects who are working like junior attorneys to “mark up” the bill.

Their aim? To do to the “ADA Restoration Act” what the Supreme Court has done to the original ADA of 1990.  In decision after decision the Supreme Court has exonerated employers from having to make workplace accommodations for disabled employees. The court has used a cynical  loophole when deciding “for” employers against disabled workers: they’ve argued that Congress, in adopting the ADA has assumed the power to regulate commerce within the respective U.S. states—in effect the conservative majority on the court has asserted that Congress doesn’t have the authority to legislate civil rights for people with disabilities—and by extension, for any other group.   

What’s the final final rationale for such a position? Why by God if you give one disabled employee an accommodation well then, by God you’ll have to give all the differently abled people accommodations and heck, that would mean living up to occupational safety and human rights standards and that’s an undue burden on capitalism which, it turns out, doesn’t always see the opportunities for new markets.

So what you do is declare the authority of Congress null and void. You do it by the process of red herring-ism, you confuse the public that the issue is about disabled people in the workplace who are always a suspect group in the view of the general public—aren’t these people faking something? Trying to get an advantage with a better parking space?

If Americans don’t demand of their Congress true accountability on behalf of our nation’s disabled citizens then they are in effect giving away the last measure of our civil rights—the stakes in this argument are really that important.

Write to your Congressman or Congresswoman; take a stand. Don’t let the “usual suspects” continue to evade social responsibility by means of obfuscation.



"Permanent Link to ADA Restoration Act Blogging Round-Up, Feb 11-28 ‘08"

The Wheelchair Runningback

Alright, I admit that I haven’t had enough coffee. Accordingly there are cobwebs in my belfry. But here’s the thing: I go to bed with a disability and when I wake up I still have it. And in turn this means that even in the half awake-half asleep intersection, the state that Edgar Alan Poe admired, I am still blind. I am blind when counting backwards by sevens. I’m blind when I watch the TV.

The experience of disability is invariably the “half-awake-half asleep” World view of Edgar Alan Poe: at once terrifying, revealing, darkly beautiful, unforeseen, foreseeable, sacred and profane, you name it. Disability defies our notion of stable space both in physical and metaphysical terms. Disability is the sore thumb of a saint: it reveals where culture must go if society will be just. And yes, people aren’t ready for it.

I remember being in a meeting some years ago with administrators whose job it was to provide services for the blind. The meeting had something to do with hum drum budgetary matters. I was the only blind person in the group. Everyone was talking about the legal battle between Casey Martin, a professional golfer who had sued the Professional Golfer’s Association over the right to use a golf cart during PGA sanctioned golf matches. Casey Martin won the right to use a motorized cart as a means of getting from one tee to another—a right that was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices agreed with Martin’s assertion that his disability didn’t prevent him from hitting a golf ball and they disagreed with the PGA’s assertion that allowing Casey Martin to ride from one spot to another would fundamentally alter the nature of the game. I agreed with the Supreme Court on that occasion and I was surprised by the evident distress of the other men in the meeting. They felt that allowing Casey Martin to ride in a golf cart from one fairway to another would radically destroy professional golf.

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