Monday, May 08, 2006

Grabbing Some Ink . . .

So, I was walking through my office today, when one of my co-workers says, “Hey! Did you see your name in the paper this weekend?”

I replied, “It’s only Monday, too early in the week for bull shitting around.” But, low and behold, he pulls out the Sunday (May 7) edition of the Press-Telegram and shows me the front-page article about ADA violations in and around the Long Beach area. I had completely forgotten about this interview I did a couple of weeks ago.

The article is headlined, “Disputed ADA Lawsuits Target Small Businesses”. I guess, conversely, the article could have been titled, “Small Businesses Deny Civil Rights to People with Disabilities”, but that wouldn’t anymore fair than the first headline.

So, before I get into the part about me, the headline tells you the slant of this piece. The story isn’t about the lack of access that people with disabilities face on a regular basis. The story is about the lawsuits. I guess lawsuits are ‘sexier’ than the denial of civil rights.

Once you read on about the business owners complaining about the cost of providing equal access, the allegations that the man who filed the lawsuits only did so for the money, and people with disabilities who say that lawsuits are the best way to deal with such problem’s . . . you finally get to me.

Still, the thing that frustrates Josh Butler, chairman of the commission, is that there is merit to these suits in the first place.

"The ADA was passed in 1990, and (businesses) have had almost 16 years now to become compliant," Butler said. "It bothers me that there are businesses that aren't accessible."

Long Beach is home to thousands of disabled residents, Butler said. And while there is no way of knowing how many businesses are ADA-compliant, it's clear that many aren't.

The majority of the city's disabled population, he said, suffer in silence when they can't use a public bathroom, or open a door by themselves, or enter a store because there is no wheelchair ramp.

But business owners, large or small, are not the real victims here, disabled activists say. And, in most cases, the solutions are simple for those who take the time to know the law. In addition, tax breaks and grants are often available to offset the costs.

"I guess, ultimately, being in compliance becomes a win-win for everybody," Butler said.

The reason I said, wasn’t necessarily articulated in the article. You see, if a business is accessible to people with disabilities, than in my opinion, they are expanding their customer base, while at the same time following the law by providing access to people with disabilities. Thus, the ‘win-win’ situation comment.

I had done this interview a couple of weeks ago, and I felt I was very well prepared. I like the way I came across, even though that was only about a tenth of my interview with Wendy Thomas Russell. That’s good, because the article isn’t about me. Ms. Thomas Russell did a pretty good job on the piece, even with what I consider to be a little bit of a slant in the other direction. At one point in the interview she asked if I was ‘glad that these law suits were filed?”

I responded my saying I thought that was a bit of a loaded question. Why would I be glad? I think that’s when I offered up something about it being a shame that it was possible, and the lawsuits had merit. If the businesses had been accessible, the suits would have no merit . . . but . . . the business aren’t accessible . . . and so on and so forth.

The local Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Building Industry Association, and Restaurant Industry Association, should spend less time fighting to change access laws, and more time educating their consumers about the law, and the need to follow the ADA. I guess that would be too simple.

Education. That’s all it takes . . . and a willingness to comply with the law. For me, after spending almost my entire life growing up around the disabilities community, and now working professionally in the disabilities community, thinking about all kinds of access for people disabilities just becomes second nature . . . plus if it didn’t . . . my colleagues would kick my ass . . . and the people I know don’t need use of their arms, legs, or eyes to do it!

Kosher Ham


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