I spend most of my days advocating for people with disabilities on different issues – access, civil liberties, funding, health care, and inclusion.
I can’t tell you how many times I call up the other person involved in a situation, explain what the issue is and get the response “So what’s the big deal?” Mr. or Ms. Ableist then proceed to dangle some kind of carrot (half eaten and chewed sometimes) in front of me to take back to the person with a disability as an appeasement. It feels sometimes as if he or she is opening up a refrigerator, looking inside and saying “There’s just leftovers in here, but you’ll have to make do” and throwing us a bone.
It’s not good enough.
First of all, many of the issues I deal with for people are protected under the ADA. There are laws protecting certain rights and by the time I get into the picture, often a law is being violated. So I’m not about to “catch a bone” and toss it on to the person who has come for help. It’s time to share the steak.
Secondly, the person who came to me for help has been inconvenienced, my time has been taken up and, although the person isn’t paying me, I figure I might as well take the opportunity to get some change. (It’s not about money, although many people think it is.) But money may enter into the equation in terms of making the person whole.
The part of “So what’s the big deal?” that’s interesting is that it’s not a big deal until the person causing the problem or refusing to negotiate about it (or even fix it) has to take some action. It’s nothing to Mr. or Ms. Ableist that the person with a disability suffers a loss of time or any other inconvenience. But you should hear him or her squeal the minute I suggest they “do something”. This is followed by:
“Why should I? I don’t have time. It’s not my problem!”
I then explain what can happen if he or she doesn’t. And as the light dawns that , indeed, some concession will have to be made, they reluctantly agree.
But often that’s not enough. Most of this shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
And it is a big deal.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan