When Disability Comes in Handy?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/columnists/damon/250106.shtml

The above article is really interesting in that it discusses something I think that a number of the blind population take advantage of every now and then. I have to admit the latter part of the article wasn’t quite as interesting as the beginning and the antics used by Damon to cut the queue. How often do we do things to gain some advantage…when being blind comes in handy. Let me give you a snippet:

“Whilst waiting for a blood test at my hospital last Friday morning, I did that fantastic queue jumping trick. You know the one? The one that you have no real control over but take a stab at anyway? The one where you look as disabled and useless as possible? The one where you speak in a small voice and try to look sad?

It was necessary. All’s fair in love and queuing. I was handed a bit of card with the number eighty-five on it as I walked into the extremely crowded and stuffy vampire’s lair.

I sat down, resigned to playing head games and setting myself occasional mental arithmetic challenges. What joy.

Happily the angels were smiling down on me because not five minutes later one of the nurses came over, stood in front of me and said: “I want you next.”

I like to think that my stay had been shortened thanks to the theatrical depressive slump into the waiting room chair but it was probably more because me and my guide dog were rather blocking the entrance (which, incidentally, was another deliberate ploy. A sub-ploy if you like).

I got to my feet a bit bashfully, pleased but feeling rather self conscious that I was going in ahead of people who had been there half the morning.

The woman who had been sitting next to me started up a bit of a wailing; vaguely mentioning something about unfairness – it was hard to tell. I walked faster whilst also trying to look ill. Yes I am definitely something of a weasel.”

Just a few thoughts to ponder.

“Blind” is Bad? and Word Choice

I found a very interesting article from the November issue of the Ragged Edge Magazine at:
http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/blogs/edgecentric/archives/2005/11/the_bad_blind.html

The author did a basic Internet search on the word “blind.”  What was fascinating to me and also the author was the prevalence of the use of the word “blind” to intimate something bad. Not just bad but “oblivious” and “ignorant.”

Kind of makes one think about other terms that have been used in the past regarding similar terms, perhaps “black” to signify “evil.”  I am not talking about earth-shaking revelations, but about the very fallible human frame of reference and how that framing can lead to negative stereotypes. It also makes me wonder about the growing use of the term “visually impaired.”

Is it all just political correctness and semantics or is it a way to maybe get away from the negative public gut-reaction to the term “blind?” Or, are we just running away from the issue and substituting one meaningless term for another?

Then, from a writer’s perspective, what difference does our word choice make?  When we choose a specific word we are setting up a certain expectation based on the reader’s (or viewer’s) background and baggage?  Is this something we should be cautious of?  What kinds of negative stereotypes can we be permeating by our use of certain language? 

 I don’t think we should be running around paranoid, but it is something to be mindful of.  In fact, it could be quite useful.  Certain words create certain expectations.  And for screenwriters who are working under the limits of the format, it gives us some leeway for other words.   

“Vexatious” Litigants and the ADA

Just musing over a couple of articles about Jarek Molski. Jarek Molski is a paraplegic who has become rather famous, or infamous, as the case may be for filing law suits against businesses for violations of the ADA. To date, I think he has filed more than 400 lawsuits against businesses all over California charging noncompliance of Title III of the ADA as well as state laws preventing disability discrimination.

Today the U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California dismissed his suit for lack of standing. Granted, this man has gone out of his way to…according to many, basically extort businesses, threatening them with civil suits and there are credibility problems with his allegations but as said stated in the Disability Law Blog: “…he wouldn’t be able to do what he does if so many businesses weren’t still violating the ADA 15 years after it came on the books.”

It is disturbing that people like Molski are using the ADA for such purposes but what is even more disturbing is that 15 years later businesses are not accessible. There is a change of focus from what is a very real access issue to the issue of the “badness” of people like Jared Molski. That is what I think is of the greatest concern to the disability community.

Courts start to view ADA public accommodations litigation not as a plea for access but as a means to extort a cash settlement. (Which seems to be what happened in this case according to some of the statements made by the judge.)

Lets get real – It takes money to hire a skilled lawyer and those money damages are the only way for anyone bringing an ADA case to really get the representation necessary. It is not those poor little businesses versus the big, bad disabled person who is purposefully gunning for them using the ADA as an excuse. Those “poor little businesses” have had 15 years to bring themselves up to code. In the real world the better lawyer usually wins and without the promise of monetary damages you can bet that it is going to be the corporate entity that has the better lawyer.

The case is Molski v. Kahn Winery, 2005 WL 3436792 (C.D. Cal., Dec. 15, 2005)

Boston Article on Molski
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/12/15/judges_ruling_stifles_prolific_plaintiff?mode=PF

Disability Law Blog on Molski
http://disabilitylaw.blogspot.com/

How Easy to Forget Even the Famous Disabled

I found an article the other day from Haaretz.com about an Israeli university and its ban on students with disabilities.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=647205&contrassID=2&subContrassID=4&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y

Just as a snippet: “Alia Abu al-Khof wants to be a teacher. But when she applied to study toward her undergraduate degree at Tel Hai College, she found out that it does not accept people like her, a person with a mobility challenge. The reason: The institution is built on a steep slope and is not wheelchair-accessible. Following a report in Haaretz yesterday, the college retracted its sweeping refusal to accept students with disabilities and announced it would try to help al-Khof study there.”

What is fascinating is that Tel Hai College is located on the site where one of the most famous people in the history of Zionism fell. Joseph Trumpeldor was one of the first powerful Zionist activists and was responsible for bringing many settlers to Palestine. After his death Trumpeldor became the symbol of Jewish self-defence, and his memorial day on the 11th day of Adar is officially noted in Israel every year. But what seems to have been forgotten is that Joseph Trumpeldor was a person with a disability. He had lost his left arm years before at the seige of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war.

The Tel Hai College takes pride in being a bastion of tolerance and pluralism, until it was required to be accessible to people with disabilities.

“Tel Hai College, located on the site where the most famous disabled person in the history of Zionism fell, and which commemorates Joseph Trumpeldor’s legacy, is the last place that should enshrine discrimination against the disabled.”

Progress is slow. But what really catches my eye is the very fact how history seems to eliminate people’s disabilities. Those are wiped from their biographies. This is especially prevalent when their contribution to history had nothing to do with the field of disability. If it was someone who excelled then the disability seems to “mysteriously” vanish. Just as a few examples: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was disabled from polio, Harriet Tubman and Julius Caesar both had epilepsy; Stephen J. Cannell the screenwriter and director is dyslexic, as is Cher; Mozart had Tourette Syndrome; Steve Allen and Alice Cooper both have asthma, the famous Spanish painter Goya was deaf, and John Cougar Mellencamp and Hank Williams Sr. had forms of spina bifida; and just to mention a couple of notaries for any ACB readers, let me add the painters Degas and Monet who were both visually impaired.

But those are people who’s disabilities I had to hunt out. In the classroom, their contribution to society was never questioned, but their contribution as a member of a minorty class is never identified. Just as historically the societal contributions of African-Americans has never been attributed with an acknowledgement. What does this mean? It means that without a knowledge of history, without a knowledge of what people with disabilities have contributed, we are trapped in the sterotypical shells created by society and they, like Tel Hai College justify their discimination without ever realizing that we were the rock upon which they were built.