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Monday, August 26, 2013

Devaluing People with Disabilities

Hi, welcome back!

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to discuss the means by which people with disabilities have historically been devalued by the very society they live in in spite of political rhetoric embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Edufcation Act, the Fair Housing Act and related enabling legislation with a national scope, and the United Nations Convention on the Dignity and Rights of People with Disabilitie on the international arena, all mandating equal access to participation in every sector of society and the right to lead a fully complete life comparable to able-bodied peers. These are all ideals to aspire towards but unfortunately they are honored in the breach or more often, simply not acknowledged by those charged to enforce them. The reality does not match the political rhetoric. Let me give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

1) The unemployment rate nationally for people with disabilities this month is 16%. Contrast that with a 7% for those without disabilities. I'm not absolutely certain about the exact figure but you get the idea that the gap is a significant one.

2) Access to transportation options in NYC is abysmal. Only 10% of the entire taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible at thuds point. This means interminably long waits on the streets before a single accessible cab is available . The Mayor and City Council President refuse toacknowlegde the problem as a civil rights issue requiring access to the mainstream. Disability advocates are fighting hard to redress this huge imbalance, working towards the goal of 100% accessibility comparable to the checker cab fleet in London. Accessible prototypes and a few innovative minivans were presented to the NYC Taxi and Limoisine Commission which ultimately decided to purchase inaccessible minivans for it's fleet, completely disregarding the needs of the disability community! Therefore, a person in wheelchair or scooter forced to use either paratransit vans(often unreliable and highly inflexible, requiring a day's reservation in advance) or public transportation utilizing fixed routes unilaterally cut by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of austerity measures a few months ago.


Letter of Hate - Example of Devaluation of People with Disabilities

An absolutely shocking and hateful letter from an anonymous neighbor in Ontario Canada was posted as a handbill, targeting an innocent child who just happened to have autism, a developmental disability, went viral on the Internet last week. It was full of invective and strongly urged the family to put away the child "forever " claiming that his loud vocalizations, idiosyncratic behaviors and even his very presence "disturbed" the author of the missive and by extension the very community that family resides in. Upon investigation, the local police deemed that the letter although malicious in intent and deed "did not legally rise to the level of a hate crime" because a class group was not targeted. Such sentiment is indicative of society's systemic and often subtle devaluation of people with disabilities within which the child(nameless) is a member of by virtue of his cognitive dysfunction. This is a clear instance where although accessibility and equality regulations are on the books and often are mandated in various codes, one cannot legislate attitudes and bias against an often disenfranchised minority group. The incident should be taken seriously by Canadian society because if other similar occurrences surface unacknowledged, a eugenic frame of mind could easily resurface even within a democratic society. I truly hope that it is an isolated incident but make no mistake: vigilance by both the community and by human rights authorities must not lag.