Disabilities before the ADA

Vintage car.
Vintage car.

Disability and "Reasonable"

“Disability” – defining it, becoming politically correct about it, making accommodations for it – is a minefield in the United States. When the ADA, “Americans with Disability Act,” passed into law I recall thinking, “OK, the law states ‘reasonable” accommodations must be made for persons with a disability; that’s not a big deal.” However, American businesses, ever fearful in our hyper-litigious country, seemed to ignore the word “reasonable.” Huge expenses are incurred to prevent running afoul of this federal law.

Pre-ADA Success Stories

Let us recall how disabled persons functioned in our world before ADA. We had at least three US Presidents with disabilities (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy.) That’s pretty good. We had veterans from many military conflicts who returned without parts of their limbs or parts of their faces, and they were not ostracized. Medical technology exploded in the latter part of the twentieth century. Before that, though, people lived with their limits and others accepted them. If someone fell down a well as a child and forever after had a damaged, useless leg? The attitude was: “That’s life. Now, get up and do something constructive.” Generally, the individual and his family did find ways for him to function and contribute.

Are we uncomfortable with any differences?

Consider the American obsession with perfection: we embarrass ourselves with how much money we spend on products, procedures, or plastic surgery to change how old we look (in the direction of looking younger, not older and wiser.) A British friend of mine shared with me how amusing it is that Americans all want to be Barbie and Ken. Contentment is not a national value. Did this flavor of thought ignite people who either believe they are not the norm, or are treated by others as such to seek mandated accommodations?

Just my opinion

We do not want to live with dangerous consumer products or work in hazardous settings. Additionally, we do not want prejudices to prevent fellow citizens from using their skills and talents to support themselves. Yet, I wonder if some of the spirit behind this legislation is similar to Chicken Little crying “the sky is falling.” Did the ADA result from our seeing problems where they do not exist? Let's not insist on ramming crutches into the hands of those who do not need them.

Text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan

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