Tuesday, July 28, 2015

#ADA25, Stringy-thingies, and Complete Ignorance

Last Sunday (26 July 2015) was the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil-rights law that makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in housing, employment, transportation, public facilities, and telecommunications.

As an advocate for increased awareness for disabilities at my fellowship (UUFN), I thought last Sunday would be a good day to have a conversation around the ADA during the Story for All Ages (aka the children’s story that I've mentioned before).

So I started with a hunk of blue wax that has a stringy-thingy sticking out the top. Yes, it was a candle and the stringy-thingy was the wick. I showed different candles and compared them to an electronic candle that has an artificial wick. Once upon a time, the candles with the stringy-thingies told the candles with the artificial wicks that because the candles with artificial wicks need batteries to function, they had to go to different schools. Because the stringy-thingies didn’t know how long the batteries would last, they wouldn’t hire the candles with artificial wicks. Eventually, the candles with artificial wicks got fed up and wanted to talk to their lawmakers, but they couldn’t get up the stairs. (You can listen to the story here.)

Photo by Pat Field www.redmillstudio.com/
Of course the kids recognized that this was a silly story. But then I changed the story, and replaced the characters from candles to people, specifically able-bodied vs. people in wheelchairs. That’s when the adults understood the point of the story. The kids still couldn’t relate because they are young and have no memory of a time when people in wheelchairs were denied acceptance to college or denied jobs or housing or were considered a fire hazard. They have no memory of buildings without ramps or elevators or accessible parking spaces.
"Maybe that ignorance is a good thing, meaning that living in a time of such rampant discrimination is in our past to stay."
Maybe that ignorance is a good thing, meaning that living in a time of such rampant discrimination is in our past to stay. But that ignorance might also mean that the fight stops here, which would be bad because we still have a lot of work to do. For example, we need to enforce the ADA better, and we need to increase awareness and understanding.  Here are a few examples of the work still to be done in Delaware:

Mobility:  Only 44% of Delaware’s curbs have curb cuts to allow wheelchairs, scooters, and even strollers to cross the street. (Source)

Hospitalization: When my friend was hospitalized, they put him in a room with a bathroom that was too small to accommodate his wheelchair.

Transportation: Although Delaware does have a Paratransit system, it does not run on Sundays and does not cross county lines. People who wanted to complain during a Paratransit meeting at the state capitol (in the next county) were unable to attend because they could not get a ride.

Churches and places of worship are exempt from the ADA laws, so any work we do to make our worship spaces more accessible and welcoming is a spiritual practice, not a legal one. So is this my new calling?
Photo credit UUA http://www.uua.org/accessibility

May the spirit in us rise to the occasion, and may we make more progress in the next 25 years.

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