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Monday, December 30, 2013

People with Disabilities face irritating discrimination every day

By JERRY WOLFFE

Discrimination is evidence mankind has yet to move into an age of enlightenment.
When one is disabled, the string of discrimination is felt in so many ways. It's not about people being rude, but is about some of us with disabilities being intentionally being mistreated.
Eventually to remain sane and have a healthy self-concept, one learns that he or she who discriminates based on disability, sexual orientation, race, economic status or a religious basis needs our prayers, not anger. Anger just festers in our souls corrupting them.
For some stinging insight into real life with a disability, here are some of the most common examples of discrimination people with disabilities experience every day.
Store employees assume we are stupid.
In a movie theater, store in the mall, a restaurant or any public-type place that has employees, five times out of 10 you'll run into an employee who will automatically assume you're ill-equipped mentally because of an obvious physical disability. Every time at checkout, the cashier will always ask my wife if she wants paper or plastic, directing all her questions towards her, never assuming I'm the one who's paying. Very, very frustrating.
Taxis passing us by.
If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you've experienced taxis passing you by quite often even though it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Taxis frequently avoid passengers with physical disabilities, not wanting to deal with our extra needs, seeing them as a headache and not looking at us as an equal customer. Little do they know that we do not demand their assistance. Anyone with a disability hailing a cab solo can likely handle the entire transfer on their own.
Stairs in public spaces.
You go to grab a coffee or meet a friend for lunch, but wait -- you can't get in. This is architectural discrimination at its finest and we encounter it every day. The ADA Architectural Guidelines in the Federal Register require all places of public accommodation to be accessible to someone with a disability, including a wheelchair user. There is no such thing as a building is grandfathered in and need not follow ADAAG. There are a few exceptions for historic landmarks, but they must be accessible as long as making them so does not destroy the architectural uniqueness.
 Despite the misguided notion that certain buildings are grandfathered-in to the ADA and do not need to be accessible, umm no, they do. Any public space must.
The sad part is many owners simply don't care and choose to blatantly discriminate. They just don't get it that our money is as good as anyone else's but I have to get into the store to buy a product.
Wheelchair "quotas."
Some places of public accommodation such as concert venues, airplanes, city buses, amusement park rides have quotas on how many wheelchairs are allowed. Some apparently and wrongly fear a person who uses a wheelchair is more likely to be injured, but this is far from reality and a blatant excuse to discriminate. I'd like to put the venue owner in a wheelchair, have him or her show up at a concert and be told there's no wheelchair seating. One famous landmark in Detroit, the Fisher Theater, still doesn't have wheelchair seating, leaving play lovers such as this writer missing out. Meadowbrook Theater near Oakland University is no better.
Strangers pretending they don't see us.
Once in a while you'll run into someone who's not very pleasant. Maybe they're in line in front of you, or avoiding your gaze when you're looking for someone to help you grab something from a shelf. These folks like to pretend they don't see us, apparently thinking it's easier to do that than interact with us. One way to change the situation is to say hello to that person. In most cases, they'll respond and realize you are just like everyone else and it's no big deal to hand me an out-of-reach item.
People taking our parking spots.
It happens all the time -- able-bodied individuals parking in handicapped parking spaces. The convenience is just too hard to deny. And while this is all fine and dandy when it's in the middle of the night and there's no one else at the store, they generally take our spots in the daytime, especially the good ones that have extra room for our ramps. We know one cannot always tell if someone has a disability because there are invisible disabilities but unless the vehicle has a disabled parking sticker or license plate with the universal wheelchair symbol that vehicle does not belong in a parking spot set aside for those with disabilities.
It is kind of sad, too, that not all wheelchair license plates are recognized in every state. In a visit a few years ago to Georgia, I received a ticket for parking in a disabled parking spot, even though my vehicle clearly had the proper plates. A friend who has paraplegia also received a ticket for parking in a reserved spot in New York because the state doesn't recognize Michigan disabled parking license plates as being legit.
Whatever you do, don't let these daily discriminatory occasions bring you down. Patience is huge in the life of a wheelchair-user, especially if you want to survive and do so with grace. Discrimination may even be your reality for many years. However, if you can use each time you're discriminated against as a teaching opportunity, then you and others are on their way to being treated with respect.