A is for Advocacy

One of the facts of living with a disability is having to make choices about when to assert your rights when you run into lack of acess. Once you make that decision, you then have to choose whether to enforce your rights under the ADA or through other means.

For years one of my friends relied on his sense of humor to handle things when a restaurant or business wasn’t accessible. I recall him charming waitresses into making room for his wheelchair and spending a half hour after his dinner explaining to managers why an accessible bathroom would help their business grow. And then he began to start filing lawsuits. Somewhere over the years he concluded that it was necessary to enforce rights, not just convince people to follow the ADA in certain instances.

Through his efforts, no matter which approach he took, a number of businesses are now accessible. Others are benefitting from ramps, accessible bathrooms and other facilities. It’s not as if someone hangs a sign on a curbcut one fights for with your name on it – but I’m sure anyone reading this who has been able to get an accessible accommodation made knows the feeling of satisfaction you get when you pass by it. I spent years quietly advocating for new curbcuts where I live. Not only were the curbcuts put in, but research was done to make sure that the safest and most up to date ones were installed as the project went on. This was all accomplished without having to resort to litigation.

It can be a tough choice as to which approach to take once you’ve decided you’re going to assert your rights. I prefer communicating with a business first before filing an ADA complaint to see if a reasonable accommodation can be worked out. Why? Because I’ve been able to negotiate much better results without litigating in many instances.

If you choose this approach, remember to set forth your side of the situation in a direct but respectful way. Try to be clear about what you’re asking for. If the situation becomes emotional, be careful to avoid becoming too reactive. After all, your goal is to get access, not aggravated. If you feel baited, simply point out that your alternative is to file an ADA complaint Knowing this can help you negotiate more effectively.

But what do you do when you run into a tough cookie who won’t negotiate with you? If any of the following occur, then you’re probably not going to be able to settle things without filing an ADA complaint:

-You receive the ‘brushoff’ – this can range from a denial that the ADA even exists to the business denying that any other customers in wheelchairs (who are deaf, blind, etc.) had any problem
– Your attempts to communicate are ignored or you receive a runaround
-You’re met with an unreasonable level of hostility (Don’t expect any business/individual to be happy about having to make accommodations; however, civility is a reasonable expectation.)

I’ve met far too many disabled people who leave it up to others to remedy lack of access. Perhaps they think they lack the skills to handle it. But often, with the right approach, simply letting a business owner know what you need results in a solution. And nothing feels more empowering than self advocacy.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

2 responses to “A is for Advocacy

  1. so true. it’s hard to believe that we still have to advocate though, especially considering that they’ve had 17 years to comply with the law.

    anyways, i wanted to drop a note about a blog campaign we’re having against the mda telethon and charity/pity model of disabilities. i hope you’re in, i think bloggers can make a big difference 🙂 to find out more please check out http://crip-power.com or karasheridan.com!

  2. Cheshirecat

    But you folks do have the ada actually. Here in Germany, we have to beg for – if we are listened to at all. We don`t have any rights do relie on – we are just “handicapped” ones – thats how we are called, but meant is: the crippeld. The useless. The ones who only can be pitied.

    You can`t imagine what i would give for a law similar to ADA!

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