One of the toughest things to distinguish when doing disability advocacy is when to use the d-word or not. Yes, I mean “discrimination”. After all, when we think of discrimination, we often think of the Civil Rights movement, which rightly put an end to those laws banning black Americans from the rights and privileges afforded to all citizens in our nation’s founding documents. For those in Rio Linda, I’m talking about the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration Of Independence specifically.
Discrimination on the basis of race was certainly systemic until the acts passed during the 1960s thankfully ended that nonsense. For people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) did much the same. So, on paper at least, there’s no systemic discrimination against people who are disabled.
Yet, society hasn’t caught up in all areas. The unemployment rate for people who are blind remains at 70 percent; if you toss in another disability, it’s 80: and if there’s a cognitive or mental illness in the mix, it’s 90 percent. It varies county to county whether voting machines are accessible. I’ve seen the good ones and I’ve seen the broken ones myself.
When it comes to exercise equipment in gyms, if you’re blind and can’t feel the little divots on the treadmill’s touch screen, you’re going to need a lot of help going faster or slower unless your club’s manager orders Braille or large print labels-and I’m very thankful my club manager has done that.
Thank God, the Communications and Video Accessibility Act was passed over ten years ago. But, technology’s changed a lot. So, there needs to be amendments that update the language and accessibility for iPhones, Netflix, audiodescription on the TV, et al.
But, are all these needs to catch up a matter of discrimination? I don’t think so. They and countless other aspects of life where society is catching up fall, in my opinion, in the places where increased awareness needs to happen.
After all, should we petition the government to run the mom’n pop stores and gyms out of business because they don’t have the finances to comply with bloated government demands headed up by the DOJ? No way! Smmall business and mom’n pop stores are the backbone of the American free enterprise system. Big government has no business sticking its nose into the affairs of the little workout facility on the little town square.
However, where can that little town square gym be encouraged to adapt, if need be? Well, if a couple bills in the Senate get past, Precor and other exercise equipment builders will be encouraged to make their treadmills and bikes and stairmasters accessible. Then companies as big as Planet Fitness or as small as Ah Salon and Spa can buy said equipment if the demand by consumers coming to any given franchise warrants it.
After all, we advocates need to also think like good pro-growth adherents to trickle-down Reaganomics. If the demand is there by consumers, then real competition will follow between those companies who make and market adaptive software for audiovisual accessibility.
So, no, we don’t want to say lack of awareness, lack of funding or lack of demand in a given sector of life should be branded as discrimination.
With that said, do we let people off the hook if they are unaware? No. That’s where person-to-person advocacy comes into play. Maybe, you need that audio signal on your street corner in order to cross over on your way to work. Perhaps, you know others in your area who’d benefit from that audio signal. You have every right and means to approach your city council representative or another local power that is and petition for your needs to be met. After all, where are our needs individually best heard? Locally, first. That’s self-advocacy. And we who are blind need to practice it on a regular basis with cordiality and respect.
So, please, do not drop the D-bomb when expressing what you need or advocating for others in situations where known, overt discrimination doesn’t exist. Rather, take heart in the joy of raising awareness, whether you’re talking to your local pub about getting braille menus, talking to your State Representative about the distinction between service and emotional support animals, or lobbying the U.s. Congress about any number of matters.