May 12, 2006


An Act for Disabilities or An Act to Disable?

...I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days, wondering if I should actually publish it for fear of some kind of backlash from people who misinterpret it and think that I’m cold-hearted and mean-spirited toward people with disabilities.
...I then considered the fact that my audience might be only around ten people and that hopefully by now most know that I’m not one to take a viewpoint simply to be controversial or play the devil’s advocate. I don’t intend to offend; I just offend with my intent.
...It wasn’t until I commented on Amy’s post about a silly lawsuit involving a frivolous lawsuit involving a baseball team promotion for Mother’s Day that I figured I might as well follow through with my opinion on something that has become widely viewed as fair, equitable, important, and morally pertinent: the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it relates to the rights of private businesses.
...In my comment on Amy’s site I expressed my view that private sector businesses should be allowed to make decisions and actions that might be deemed “discriminatory.” In the case that Amy touched upon, a man was discriminated against by the Anaheim Angels because they wouldn’t give him a Mother’s Day promotional bag, and in turn he’s decided to sue.
...Here in my home state of Pennsylvania, a small town in the eastern half of the commonwealth has found itself embroiled in a controversy involving disabled people and businesses that don’t meet specifications that are outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Out of 83 downtown businesses in the town of Tamaqua, none were in total compliance with the ADA. The biggest violations that were discovered by a disability advocacy group which inspected the stores were those of heavy entrance doors, bathrooms that weren’t wheelchair accessible, and a lack of ramps leading into many of the storefronts.
...The disability advocacy group informed the businesses that if they don’t respond to the critiques within 30 days they will become subject to court-ordered mediation and possible lawsuits.
...Logistically-speaking there might be problems with the ramp idea because a second newspaper touched upon the difficulties of actually building ramps on town blocks that were built in the 1800s. The design of the structures had been built during an era when storefront ramps weren’t even thought of. Extra space will be needed between some of the buildings and in some cases entire sections of the blocks will be required to somehow “rearrange.” As if that isn’t bad enough, many of the small businesses there are mom-and-pop types and can’t afford to build bathrooms that might cost half of what their stores are already worth.
...Now, for a moment, let’s consider an intellectual argument that will no doubt be controversial and disagreed with by many: Allowing these businesses—and others across the country—to build high-priced ramps and big-ticket lavatories only if they want to. If they don’t, the recourse could be calls for boycotts by the advocacy groups and citizens who support the idea of disabled-accessible stores. In essence, the concept would be that privately-owned stores would have the right to cater to whichever customers they choose. If they choose not to cater to certain demographics, they wouldn’t be forced to just because other people have decided that it’s “fair.”
...Let it be known that I’m fully aware that the ADA is law, and violations of the guidelines found within the act are illegal. If they weren’t, the Tamaqua incidents wouldn’t be much of a story. I’m simply proposing a debate over whether or not we’re basing laws—such as the ADA—on intellectual arguments or just emotions. I can’t help but think that if it were the former we would have never gone through with the ADA in the first place; we would have taken the radical (radical as of now) route and allowed for private sector businesses to decide who shops in their stores. In turn, we would also allow for the offended people—no matter what group it might be—to protest and call for boycotts, but not go so far as to pass laws.
...Our society has opted to take the route of regulating the wishes of private businesses in order to be “fair” to those who want it to be fair, but is this a good thing? That will no doubt become the $64,000 question. Here’s why:
...I will argue that whenever we make a move with legislation it opens another door for more legislation in other areas. If regulating private business in multiple ways is “good” or “fair” for a reason, how many forms of regulation can be justified if we implement them under the guise of fairness? It’s almost like the potential for increased assaults on our privacy under the guise of fighting terrorism: If you disagree with wiretapping without warrants or random surveillance on law-abiding citizens it is said that you must not want to stop terrorism. In turn we open the door for more regulation under the guise of fighting terrorism. Similarly, the argument can be made, if you don’t like regulations on multiple aspects of the private sector you must not like specific groups of society. It’s ultimately said that you don’t like fairness or equality.
...How fair is that?


Blogger Legally Insane said...

how about this: since a significant majority of americans are now overweight, what if obesity was deemed to be a legal disability under the auspices of the ada?

would movie theaters, sport stadiums, airlines, and taxis have to redesign or rebuild their facilities to accomodate morbidly corpulent individuals?

May 13, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

DL, I’m willing to bet ‘yes’ because all that we would need is to have enough people voice such a desire to their representatives. Politics and the decisions that our politicians make ultimately boil down to what the majority of voters — and potential voters — want. Whenever a new controversy erupts the first thing that we see on most of the media outlets is a poll, and any politician worth their salt is going to go with “the will of the people,” no matter if it’s good, bad, or ugly. It simply means that they’re ensuring their re-election.

The ADA was passed because enough people voiced their opinion that it should be passed and the politicians listened. In turn we experienced a give-and-take: It mandated accessibility to some while removing a freedom of choice for others, all in the name of fairness.

I know that in 2000, Continental Airlines was considering accommodating overweight passengers with bigger seats. When it was announced there were people who said that it was about time for it, but they didn’t stop there: there were a few debates over whether or not it should be required under the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986.

At the time United was making obese passengers pay for two tickets, causing an uproar because it was said that they were “discriminating” against overweight people. Such a situation should be similar to what I suggested with the Anaheim Angels Mother’s Day promotion: If you don’t like the policy, don’t use the business. The overweight people could have boycotted United, but instead opted to whine.

Using this philosophy, people such as myself — I’m 5’10” and 163 pounds — would be able to complain about clothing stores and mail-order catalogs which cater to big and tall customers. It could be said that they’re “discriminating” against those of us who are under six feet and 200 pounds.

To that I’d say that it’s their right to cater to those customers because those are the people to whom they want to sell.

May 13, 2006  
Blogger amy said...

I firmly believe obesity will soon be considered a disability under the ADA; it's only a matter of time.

And JP hits the nail squarely on the head when he says that instead of just boycotting the airlines that charge extra for two seats, they just whine. That's what really troubles me about this issue: it's just easier to throw a tantrum and stomp your feet (ie, file a lawsuit) than to just NOT frequent that particular business or enterprise. Isn't that how it used to happen? What changed?

And JP, while I know you feared controversy with this particular post, I want to commend you for actually saying it. I think the same way you do on this, and I'm glad you said it "out loud!"

May 15, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...


May 15, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home