Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Rest of the World

Although I was pretty much born into the ADA, I know that life has not always been so great for people with disabilities and that we have come a long way. But have we come far enough? For me, the answer is no. Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I’ll never be satisfied. But maybe I’m right.

We have grown from being viewed as Mother Nature’s mistakes to being social and economic inconveniences. I refuse to believe that is the best that we can do.

A long time ago, people with disabilities were shameful creatures to be hidden, institutionalized or euthanized. Today, we are humans, but humans to be pitied. If we show an ounce of strength, we are ungrateful people who are asking for too much. So yes, we’ve come a long way from where we used to be, but we are still seen in a negative light for the most part.

I really am usually not this pessimistic, but recent events have really gotten to me.

This week at work, I read a report from Amtrak about their status on becoming 100% ADA compliant. When the ADA was passed 19 years ago it was recognized that the changes that needed to be made to public entities would be expensive. For this reason, Amtrak was given 20 years to make every station 100% ADA compliant. Now, a year before they are required to be 100% compliant, they have decided to submit a report asking for at least five more years. Only 10% of their 481 stations are fully accessible in accordance with the ADA. In 19 years they have only successfully completed 10% of the stops? Really? But by 2015 they will have the other 90% finished? Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?!?

Of course, one of their main excuses for not being able to have every station accessible by the 20 year deadline is that it costs too much money! The Amtrak report continuously requests money from the federal government to cover the costs of making the necessary ADA improvements. The report also boasts that their disabled ridership has increased significantly over the years. In 2008 alone, Amtrak estimates that they had around 185,000 disabled riders.

So Amtrak can accept money from people with disabilities, but Amtrak cannot use their own money to become ADA compliant? Of course not. Disabled people are an economic inconvenience, and as such, the government should have to cover the costs to accommodate us.

Besides being very frustrated by Amtrak, outside of work people have not been too friendly. Last weekend, while in the American History Museum, my sister and I were looking at the Hope Diamond and a woman grabbed her children away from me and announced, “Let’s get out of here before she kills us all!” Obviously I am a danger to society when I am in my wheelchair. Had I been walking through the museum, I doubt the woman would have acted the same way.

Additionally, on my way to work this week, I was getting off the elevator to catch the train at Foggy Bottom when a woman waiting to get on the elevator started screaming at me, “Watch out! Watch out Watch out!” She made it clear to me and everyone around that just because I was using a wheelchair I was clearly going to hit her. This made me very angry. I do not doubt any persons ability to walk without smashing into others, so why does my use of a wheelchair automatically mean I am destined to cause a catastrophe? I was glad to hear another woman snap, “Ma’am, I doubt this is her first day using the wheelchair. She knows what she’s doing, so I think you’re safe.”

My point is, just because we are now “allowed” in society doesn’t mean people necessarily want us here. Nevertheless, I am not going anywhere.

Now that I think about it, we have come far enough. It’s the rest of the world, and their attitudes, that need to catch up to us.

Stephanie Woodward

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