Monday, September 8, 2008


Something disturbing was brought to my attention while attending the Democratic National Convention. I've also noticed this same thing at other political and social events, regardless of party or venue. Americans tend to treat people with disabilities as if they were invisible, as objects of pity, with open hostility or, as one woman with a disibility put it to me "as pieces of furniture" -- a nuisance to be navigated around.

All of these options are profoundly wrong. And the worst part is that some of this behavior comes from people who claim to be allies of Americans with disabilities.

The disabled people I've talked to -- probably more in number that the average American -- generally only want a few things. They want to be treated just like everyone else when it comes to human interaction. They want to be given the same respect as everyone else. They want to be able to, as much as possible, live the same types of lives the rest of us live. They what to be in control of their own destiny and they want to preserve their own dignity. They want help only when they truly need it and they want to everything else for themselves -- just like the rest of us. In short, there really isn't any significant difference between people with disabilities and people without disabilities (or as I've heard some people say, "people who don't have disabilities yet").

Figuring this stuff out isn't that difficult.

If you are planning an event, political or social, or you are opening an office or acquiring a location for such an event, there is law already in place to help you understand what you should do. Also, it would be a great idea to invite people with actual disabilities into the planning committee. They are likely to be able to know what they would need, and therefore what others might need. There are also experts in ADA law and compliance.

Some of this is just common sense, though. Entrances, exits, restrooms, seating, food and beverage serving areas, etc., should be accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. If not, people should be provided with assistants or be allowed to bring assistants with no additional cost or charge. Transportation can be an issue as well, so parking needs to be available for those who need it and transportation should be provided when necessary. There are many other small things that can be done that can greatly increase accessibility and openness. We demand it of politicians, we should demand it of ourselves, too.

Democrats and liberals go out of our way to be inclusive of a wide variety of people with different backgrounds and capabilities. We should guarantee we treat our friends with disabilities the same as everyone else and include them in our activities. I've been to events all over the country and the number of them that were ADA-complient were few and far between.

We run the risk of alienating our natural allies and an important segment of our big tent. We run the risk of pushing voters to the other side. We run the risk of making our events exclusive events only open to the "right kind" of people. We run the risk of alienating voters, workers and campaign contributors.

Most importantly, if we don't start addressing these problems, we aren't living up to our own values and we aren't making the morally-correct choice.

Some of our friends with disabilities are amongst the hardest-working and most dedicated members of our movement, and they deserve to be rewarded for that and they have the right to the same respect and dignity that we demand for ourselves.

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