SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 18, 2018

The Irony of Being a Bay Ridge Blindo

 

Despite counter-arguments at the time, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990, it was in no way designed to offer any special privileges to deaf, blind, wheelchair-bound or otherwise crippled citizens. Whole Foods aside (where they let us jump to the front of the line), all it did was prohibit discrimination based on disability, while guaranteeing we’d receive the same Civil Rights protections, the same access to education, work, housing and transportation as normal, uncrippled people.

            That was over a quarter-century ago, and in that time I don’t know a single disabled person (including myself) whose life hasn’t been made somewhat easier thanks directly to the ADA.

            Now, lord knows I’ve never been any kind of advocate or activist of any kind. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. With the ADA signed into law a year after I was officially diagnosed as a future blindo. Well that was that. Just went about my own goddamn business best as I could without giving much thought to any waste-of-time social crusades. I had stupider things to do, thanks. But now I get the sense I’m being cornered. That the powers that be are starting to fuck with me and hundreds of thousands of other American cripples but good. So it’s come time to say something about it.

            The day after Donald Trump took office, pages on Civil Rights and the ADA were deleted from the White House website. Likewise, the day after Betsy DeVos assumed her role as Secretary of Education, pages on the ADA and the adjunct Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) were deleted from the Education Department’s website. We blindos have a knack for reading portents. Right? Always have. And this wasn’t a good one.

            It feels like there’s a concerted effort underway on the part of the current administration and the G.O.P. as a whole to quietly do away with the ADA, piece by piece. It’s almost as if they want us to go away. Disappear, pack our bags and move back into the state-run institutions that finally let us out back in the Sixties. I’m not exactly sure what the problem is, but they sure don’t seem to like cripples much. My guess is they consider us an unsightly burden and a useless waste of resources.

            The G.O.P. healthcare act was in many ways a frontal assault on the promises of the ADA, but even after the bill failed the effort to gut the ADA didn’t stop.

            Over the course of the past year, that craven and sinister Betsy DeVos struck down over seventy Education Department directives arising out of IDEA. The directives in question, which she termed “outdated” and “irrelevant,” not only guaranteed disabled students access to the tools that would allow them to get an education, but tools and programs that would help them find work after they graduated.

            Among the countless buried surprises within the G.O.P. tax plan, the feds scrapped one of the central provisions of the ADA—namely the tax breaks afforded to employers who hired disabled workers. Employers weren’t terribly eager to hire cripples before those tax breaks came along, and now without that incentive, why bother?

            The most recent move to further gut the ADA came on February 15, when a bill sponsored by some asshole from Texas named Ted Poe, HR 620, was passed by the House with a thirty-three-vote margin. The bill has yet to pass the Senate, but let’s face it—it will.

            Now, on the surface the bill was designed to save business owners from the hassle and expense of dealing with frivolous lawsuits filed by the disabled. But here’s the really funny part. To make dismissing those lawsuits out of hand that much easier, the bill did away with yet another of the core provisions of the ADA, namely the requirement that businesses and public buildings be made accessible to the disabled. By changing the wording of the ADA’s compliance statute from “accessibility” to “progress toward accessibility,” compliance with the ADA is now on a strictly “whatever you feel like,” basis. It’s a bit like saying since you remembered where the brush was, you were making progress toward painting the kitchen. You know right where you’d put that wheelchair ramp if you were going to build one? Well, that’s progress, and in a blink the lawsuits go away. In short, you can forget about those little niceties like subway elevators or accessible bathrooms down the line. Those things are expensive, after all.

            So all of a sudden they’ve restored old roadblocks to getting an education, finding work, and even entering public buildings. It’s enough to establish a pattern, and given the G.O.P. has made it clear attacking federal entitlement programs is their top priority in 2018, I don’t even want to consider what else I’ll be adding to the list in the coming months. (I’m not going to bring up the fact that cripples were as shunned, disenfranchised and eventually eliminated under the NSDAP as the Slavs, gypsies, gays and Jews, because bringing that up would be cheap and trite.)

            What I find most disturbing is how much of this has gone completely unreported by the major news outlets. Yes, it’s been a busy year with the Russia probe, the immigration debate and the weekly mass shootings. Maybe if the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the rest stopped wasting so much fucking time analyzing the president’s semi-coherent Twitter account they might realize a whole bunch of shit is taking place that has immediate and direct ramifications on the lives of countless disabled Americans.

            So while editorials and political talk shows are all aflutter about the fate awaiting Dreamers, America’s disabled are being bulldozed back to the same realities they faced in the 1950s. and no one seems to notice.

            Here’s the irony of it all, at least from my perspective. One of those thirty-three deciding votes was cast by yet another asshole named Dan Donovan, the congressman who represents Bay Ridge and Staten Island. So yeah, he’s my goddamn congressman. Not that I’ve ever taken things like politicians seriously, but again, he’s fucking with me now, and that changes things.

            That the Republican represents this neighborhood is hardly a surprise—I live in one of New York City’s few enclaves of hardcore Trump supporters. Listen to the conversations on the sidewalk or in the stores, take note of all the Blue Lives Matter banners and bumper stickers, and it becomes readily apparent how most of these people think. They believe Trump speaks for them in a way no other president in recent memory ever has. Compare it with a place like Park Slope, where Obama and Hillary Clinton are considered demigods, where Trump is considered Satan incarnate, and where they adorn their SUVs with Sierra Club bumper stickers, and the contrast can be shocking.

            But as I’ve noted maybe too many times, I go outside here, I can’t go half a block without one of these racist Trump lovers offering unsolicited assistance, stopping to chat, or just saying hello as they pass. People in the damned grocery store, bank, drug store and post office know me by name. As much as their president and chosen local representatives hate me and my ilk and are doing what they can to make me go away, the people themselves are amazing. What’s more, the kids down here (with the exception of that gang of vile miscreants who cornered me a few months back) are not only well-behaved, they are taught early on what a white cane represents, and they respect it.

            Meanwhile I go up to that bastion of Trump-hating warmhearted liberal tolerance and what do I get? I get bulldozed into the street by fashionably dressed women pushing strollers, I’m ignored in stores, and no one—not a fucking soul—has ever offered the slightest bit of unsolicited assistance to that stupid blindo stumbling into the construction site. Plus, if their spoiled and monstrous little brats ever learn what a white cane is, they just see it as an opportunity to harass me.

            I get the distinct impression that if I were to talk to some of my neighbors here about what’s being done to the ADA, what sort of shit their beloved president and congressman are up to that will fuck me up but good down the line, they’d pull out their torches and pitchforks simply out of neighborhood solidarity. If on the other hand I were to lay it out to someone from Park Slope, they’d likely find themselves agreeing with the president for the first time ever. I mean, who wants cripples sullying up their sidewalks that way? I mean, it’s not like they’re Dreamers or anything. Here those awful Trump supporters help me around construction sites and puddles. When I return to Park Slope it’s clear those compassionate liberals just want me to disappear as much as anyone in the Trump administration does. So what are we to make of the ironic disparity? Hell if I know, but it sure is interesting.

 

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