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Used and abused: the ADA today

By Brian Bard

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Now that the ballyhoo behind the silver anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act has died down, please allow me (with considerable regret – believe me) to voice this uncomfortable truth: The ADA, landmark legislation though it is, capable at any turn of protecting the rights of people with disabilities, continues to spawn negative consequences.

As Dr. Ronald Meinert and Francis K. O. Yuen noted in their book,Controversies and Disputes in Disability and Rehabilitation,” the ADA trivializes real disabilities by the inclusion of marginal ones. The book is available at Amazon, but it’s expensive. You can read the first chapter for free on Google books.

Let me speak to my own experience as a quadriplegic for the past 29 years – humor me if I call it a “real disability.” The first thing I notice anywhere I go, anywhere, is that I usually can’t get an accessible parking spot for my van with a wheelchair lift. Those nice wide spots are usually taken by folks who seem to walk just fine. Oh wait: They have invisible disabilities, right? Well, some do, but for so many others “invisible disabilities” are just a convenient excuse. The ADA says that anyone with a permit can take these nice wide spots even if the spot is marked “Van Parking.” The ADA doesn’t worry about wheelchair users who are forced to park without accessible spots.

As a vocational rehabilitation client and counselor, I also have noticed a change in VR customers over the years. There are now emotional disorders including a behavioral disorder for students who refuse to listen, and I was skeptical when athletes came in with learning disorders and all their parents wanted was tuition for college. I’ve heard them recite their child’s rights under the ADA more than once.

Now perhaps most egregious of all is when people with what I consider a marginal disability take non-competitive state or federal jobs (https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/disability-employment/hiring/) because of their disability. There are people out there with real disabilities who need these non-competitive jobs; instead they have to compete with people who could do other jobs.

Let’s face it: The ADA gets used and abused by selfish people and through frivolous lawsuits. In Wenzlaff v. Nations Bank, someone filed in a U.S. District Court for protection under the ADA based on pregnancy. Isn’t reproduction participation in a normal life activity? (I have two children – I’m pretty sure it is.) But wait: In Bragdon v. Abbott, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that infertility is a disability! Which is it? Come on: Some conditions are not disabilities, especially if they’re temporary in nature or if they are completely ameliorated with treatment or medication.

The ADA has given people with disabilities their long overdue rights. But for selfish people without real disabilities (you know who you are) who wish to take advantage, the path is well worn. For people with real, challenging disabilities needing assistance, sorry: Resources are dwindling and the line is getting longer … each day, and with each lawsuit.

 

About the Author

Brian Bard is a program specialist with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program at The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). Before joining NIDILRR, he worked at OSERS/RSA as a grants management specialist handling assistive technology formula grant programs.

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Comments

  • There was a similar here about a young man who was legally blind (but could drive???) and seemed quite limber and agile. He was chastised for using accessible parking.

    However, these people with “invisible disabilities” usually get by in regular spots when the accessible spots are taken (and they certainly don’t need the van spots) but more importantly, the ADA lets them park in the van spots. When all the van spots are taken people with vans and WC lifts are not able to get by with a regular spot, or even with any accessible spot. The van spots are their ONLY option.

    I’d respect the ADA a whole lot more if it recognized this and dedicated the van spots to vans ONLY.

  • Brian, great provoking post. I agree there have been many issues with the ADA and trivial lawsuits. In fact, my Master’s thesis was entitled, “Supreme Court Misinterpretations of the ADA.”
    As for the part about people with invisible disabilities being allowed to park in accessible spots because they have the permit, I like to think that people do not know better- and until they are educated, will continue to use the spots marked for accessible vans. I don’t argue with the fact that someone may need the permit, for a variety of reasons that aren’t actually my business. I think if someone doesn’t need the widened spot with the hashmark for the lift, and there are other options nearby that person should use the other option, BUT that’s only because I understand people with accessible vans need to use a lift! If I didn’t have that knowledge, I’d say “hey, they have the permit, they’re allowed to use the spot.” I think education is always the best choice to combat ignorance. Hoping your post opens some eyes to the issue, without offending them. It’s a fine line, right?

    • Hi Cory,

      Thanks for the comments. I’d love to read your Master’s thesis. Education is key, unfortunately I don’t know if it would be enough to overcome selfish desires. Where I work in DC a large percentage of the cars parked on the street have accessible parking permits. I’d wager that most of these folks know exactly what they’re doing: taking advantage of a rule not meant for them. Or, rationalizing to the tenth degree.

      Brian

  • I’ve come across several news articles in recent months that highlight the plight of those with “invisible disabilities,” especially as it relates to their use of accessible parking spots. As an example, here’s this one from the NY Daily News: http://ow.ly/Tosqe

    Your post offers a very interesting perspective of the flip side of the coin!

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