It is one of those wonderful benefits I have discovered as a disabled person: For the first time in more than six decades, women, some fairly attractive, now open and hold doors for me. A few even have offered to carry my packages. I have resisted that offer, but I suspect that soon I will succumb.
It’s amazing how your perspective gets altered as a card-carrying disabled-type needing a forearm crutch, hydrocodone and morphine to deal with the daily ravages of arthritis and stenosis. For instance, I am convinced that able-bodieds believe that we disableds all hang out on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon doing wheelies in our Hoverounds. I know that they believe we all carry copies of the Americans With Disabilities Act in our back pockets, ready to pounce on some innocent businessman whose wheelchair ramp is off by one degree.
Don’t tell me the antipathy is not there: Resentment, for example, over something as simple as those disabled parking stickers and what an unfair advantage they give folks who cannot walk. Even I find myself checking out the driver — “She seems awfully spry in her gait. Probably got some schlocky doctor to lie for her. Wait a minute, is that her running to the door now?”
And be honest: You’ve never had under-your-breath words for the guy in the wheelchair they boarded first on the Charlotte flight?
Just a few days ago, the New York Times ran a story about a flood of lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the law enacted in 1990 that prohibits discrimination by private businesses and facilities catering to the public. According to the Times, some lawyers hungry for fees are filing flocks of complaints against businesses, the disabled complainants often getting a $500 fee for lending their names to lawsuits in which they have little or no interest. The merchants are forced to install new ramps or lower the height of their counters, but under the ADA, they also must pay thousands in legal fees to the lawyers. That hardly matches the spirit of the law, but maybe the ramps should have been installed in the first place.
And I am guessing that you have read about the swimming pool crackdown. The feds are warning motels to install lifts by this month to allow the disabled to get into and out of the water. Innkeepers are spending two or three thousand dollars for the lifts, and you just know that there is much grumbling behind the scenes. The Ramada Inn at Exit 19 in Queensbury was one of the first to conform. I did a TV report about it and I asked the manager how often in the past they had been asked by customers if their pool was disabled-friendly. Zero, never, he said. Maybe it’s because disabled travelers were simply resigned to the idea that there was no way they could ever get into the swim of things, so why ask.
But motel pools never got me worked up. Public buildings do.
The Empire State Plaza, for instance, is a $2 billion (1975 dollars) monument to inaccessibility for both the disabled and able-bodied alike, designed and built when government had a monolithic attitude (like it doesn’t now?) that seemed to say “you want to visit an office in this place, well you can just walk your backside off because we’re not gonna make it easy for you.” Post-bin Laden, it’s gotten even worse, doors and entranceways shut down in the interest of “security.” The ADA, of course, does not apply to public buildings. Take Cohoes City Hall.
The City Council meets in a room a flight-and-a-half of stairs above the main floor, stairs steep enough to challenge mountain climbers. Let’s say I am a disabled Cohoes taxpayer who wants to attend a council meeting so I can congratulate the members on the wise and judicious way they are spending my tax dollars. It cannot be done; send a letter, OK?
Now, back to those Hoveround-type vehicles. I rented one of them a couple of years ago in Las Vegas, but I was not prepared for the hostility. I swear, you get all sorts of angry looks from gamblers who probably figure you are just some guy too lazy to march your rear end from the slots to the buffet. Happily, I can report having just one accident; I nicked a woman in the heel when she stopped walking too quickly in front of me. I feared the headline: “Keen Keno Player Mowed Down by Hoveround.” Thankfully, no serious injury, just another dirty look.
Thought the least she could do was get the door for me.