The Wheelchair Nuisance (or; Why Can’t Those People Just Go Away?)

By Emma Rosenthal
(Rosenthal submitted the following statement as an oped to The L.A. Times, in response to the article: Suits continue despite law to curb litigation” Friday September18, 2010. Let’s see if they print her commentary! Meanwhile, you read it here, first!)

The characterization of disability access litigation as nuisance lawsuits is profoundly dismissive, cruel and hurtful and belies a general resentment and reluctance of full inclusion for people with disabilities. This essential civil action is the only legal remedy provided to secure minimal civil rights for this significant sector of the population. L. A. Times reporter, Louis Sahagun‘s open hostility to disability access; ridiculing the extreme physical, social and emotional stress caused by constant barriers to society’s resources, makes his article read more like a tabloid editorial than a news report. The account didn’t cover the extreme ongoing lack of accessible public services for people with disabilities, but rather asserted that despite legislation intended to prevent litigation, people with disabilities continue to misuse the courts to assert our rights through “nuisance” lawsuits.

Sadly, for many people, basic human rights ARE a nuisance.  Those people are called bigots.

Anyone who either uses a wheelchair, scooter or walker,  or those who spend time with people with disabilities, know that there no need to invent abuses of civil rights legislation for disability access. Many shops including those in major tourist sections of this city: Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Sunset Junction, Fairfax, Melrose, Venice Beach, are not accessible.  Many stores clog up narrow aisles with displays and merchandise. Several local farmers markets use space in ways that are not only inaccessible to many shoppers, but, in setting up stalls, block accessible parking spaces and wheelchair ramps. Much of the L.A. housing stock, many local dog parks, playgrounds, paved walking trails, theaters, nightclubs, hotels and motels, places of worship, medical facilities, public transportation, sightseeing tour buses and trolleys, taxis, airport shuttles, human rights/peace organizations, labor organizations, public libraries, post offices, schools and universities, domestic violence shelters, are likewise frequently inaccessible.  While many facilities may have been built to comply with ADA regulations, the use of a venue quickly renders the space inaccessible:  lowered service counters that are not staffed (or are used to display ads to local theme parks), line cordons that aren’t wide enough for wheelchairs or scooters,  bath rooms  or hallways blocked by lockers and boxes, carts that  are left in the middle of aisles by store personnel, store scooters that are not charged between uses, leaving patrons stranded, accessible parking space usage that is  unenforced  or is used to display merchandise

Disability is a significant predictor of unemployment, homelessness, institutionalization, violent crime victimization, bullying, and poverty due to lack of access to social services, jobs, housing, education and medical care.  While the Chambers of Commerce and Merchants’ Associations cry foul, they repeatedly allot their ample resources, not to finding solutions or providing information to their members and supporting new businesses in assuring compliance, but rather to extensive lobbying campaigns to prevent new legislation from getting passed, and existing legislation from being enforced.  Use of the term “nuisance” to label the lawsuits that attempt to right these abuses, is a manipulative twist of words intended to increasingly turn the public against this vulnerable, marginalized population.  As for the merchant who exclaimed “Why would we want to limit access to anyone with cash in their pockets?”  Why indeed?   It’s not like there isn’t historic precedent. What excuse did Southern lunch counter owners and White Business Associations give for their disinterest in increasing their customer base?

Truth is, people with disabilities are to be unseen and unheard. Our mere presence is, for many, an offense and decreases the cachet of an establishment.

I have never filed a lawsuit for lack of access, though the opportunity presents itself every time I venture out into the world.  I may get litigious one day, but right now it’s just not what I want, nor how I should have to use my time. I do point out barriers to access and explain that such accommodations would result in more patrons, participation and greater sales (and would provide employees greater job security should they become disabled too).  Usually the response is either hostile or feigned indifference, offense, ridicule and humiliation.  Only in a few exceptions, were even the smallest (and often insufficient) changes made. So I am grateful for lawyers and individuals such as Eric Moran who have the courage, the patience and the tenacity to demand full human and civil rights for everyone.

In the face of grave injustice, someone has to be a nuisance!

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5 responses to “The Wheelchair Nuisance (or; Why Can’t Those People Just Go Away?)

  1. great, strong statement, a great idea and cause. Nice post and thanks for the share,

  2. Excellent post and an awesome blog. Thanks for writing this.

  3. Thank you.

  4. I’m with ya’ on the disinclination to file law suits. But I still get angry whenever I think of the times I’ve approached a store or restaurant manager about lack of access and am brushed off. Do these people not know that this is not okay? Emma, can you direct me to a site that lists laws regarding disability access?

  5. I’m the Founder/CEO of a company that does access audits and training to help make buildings more accessible (and to teach staff/employees) how to treat those of us who have disabilities (yes this actually requires training)!

    You would not believe the number of hotel managers who have outright told our head of Sales and Marketing

    “We don’t want THOSE people here.”

    Having multiple disabilities myself I’ve gotten use to this attitude, but it still angers me that people can still openly say they feel this way and not even feel the slightest bit ashamed about it!

    I bet they wouldn’t say “I don’t want Chinese people (etc.)” here because THAT would be considered racist and they know they could get into a lot of trouble for it, but even after mentioning the law they still say they don’t care.

    It’s sickening…

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