Restoring the Americans with Disabilities Act
It is time for us to SAVE THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT.
Remember when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed?
If you’re young enough then you don’t remember. But us older folk do. Before the ADA, if I wanted to make a phone call to a hearing person, I had to depend on a completely volunteer-run TTY relay service. In Massachusetts, that meant phone calls at certain hours of the night were not an option, and we were–at least officially–limited to 10 minutes for personal calls, 20 minutes for business calls. And you had to keep dialing and redialing and redialing to get through to the relay service at all. Hearing people had enormous trouble grappling with that concept. Their idea of “keep trying” was to hang up and then wait half an hour or more before trying again, just as if they were trying to call a friend who might be busy talking to someone else — not a service with a limited number of personnell that only had a few very tight windows of opportunity to get through at all. Windows that could only be reached with constant, repeated, back to back re-dials. What this meant was that, if I wanted to talk with a hearing person–even someone who was willing to learn how to initiate their own relay calls–I was the one who had to place all the calls.
In California, service was 24/7 — but you could only make phone calls to people who were also in California. No phone calls to Big Sis in Boston or to Grandma and Grandpa in New York.
In the Washington DC area, it was back to limited hours. And you had to dialredialredialredialredialredialredialredialredialredialredial for a solid 20 to 30 minutes in a row to hit that one microscopic window of opportunity. I learned to re-dial numbers with my eyes closed.
Post ADA era: now I can make a TTY relay call from any state, to any state, 24/7, and have a reasonably good expectation of getting through on the first try. (Yes, for now I’m still using a TTY. And given that deaf-blind people can’t use video relay, I do plan to hang on to my TTY even if I do eventually get around to implementing video relay for myself.)
Pre-ADA: I had to choose a college based in part on whether they would adequately accommodate my needs as a Deaf student. Sure, I could have fought if there had been a particular college I was dying to go to that didn’t want to accommodate my needs. The Rehab Act of 1973 and Section 504 were around then, which did help some. But some colleges (I wish I could re-locate those letters) flatly told me, in black and white print, that they “could not” meet my needs as a Deaf student. Something a college wouldn’t dare put in writing today, post-ADA.
So, does the ADA help? Yes, immensely.
But not nearly enough.
Some of our remaining problems are due to issues the ADA was never written to cover. It was not written with enough flexibility, for example, to cover new technology such as the World Wide Web. That’s one of several reasons why so many on-line videos and audio pod-casts are simply not captioned, and maybe the most important one. It’s also why so many web pages are nearly impossible for blind people to navigate even when the right “fix” would cost nothing.
Some of our remaining problems are because of things that no law can legislate away. Have you ever had an employer seem to express interest in you, only to suddenly stop returning phone calls or answering emails as soon as you reveal you’re Deaf? (Or Autistic, or blind, or using a wheelchair?) Some of this might not be intent to discriminate per se. Some employers may simply assume, “They can’t do the job” and honestly don’t realize that there are often ways around the barriers they think they see. These kinds of assumptions need to be overcome with EDUCATION, not just legislation.
But some of our remaining problems are due to weak support for the ADA from the government and from the courts. Deaf people, and people with disabilities ourselves often lack the time and energy to lodge a complaint when the ADA gets violated–even if we know how and know we should. If we wrote up a letter to the Department of Justice with the appropriate documentation every time something happened, we would be spending our lives fighting for our rights instead of just living them. But even when we do complain, the DOJ doesn’t have enough budgeting and staff support to go after everyone who does something wrong. Which means only a few lodged complaints may bring about real results — not necessarily a payment to the wronged party, but at least a change for the better for the next Deaf (or disabled) person.
And the courts keep diluting the law with every decision they make. The ADA, for example, is supposed to cover both people who actually HAVE disabilities and ALSO people who are PERCEIVED as disabled. But the courts have essentially gutted the second part of that. So someone who is denied opportunities because they have epilepsy may be denied protection under the ADA because their epilepsy is well-controlled by medication. And this is just one example of many–perhaps you know of more (in which case, please share in the comments area below).
Well, Congress is trying to do something about these problems. They are working on a piece of legislation called the ADA Restoration Act. And they’re now collecting petition signatures on line. If you’re registered to vote in the United States, then PLEASE GO SIGN IT. And ask your friends and relatives to do the same — Deaf, hard of hearing, deaf, or hearing; Autistic or non-Autistic; disabled or non-disabled. And, please– BLOG about it.
When you sign the petition, you’ll see there is a comment area at the bottom where you can add your own comments. USE IT. Petition signatures by themselves mean very little. Congresspeople know how easy it is to sign a petition–they know that some of the people signing these things are just humoring their friends who asked them to sign it. But if you take a few minutes of your time to add your own thoughts, Congress will sit up and take notice.
I suggest writing a paragraph about an experience you have had with discrimination WHILE UNDER THE ADA. How has the ADA FAILED to protect your rights? Where possible, try to identify something that happened specifically because the courts have WEAKENED the ADA, or because the DOJ doesn’t have enough budget to take action even when it should.
Go sign the petition here:
And remember — BLOG about it.