John Stossel Wants YOU! To Be Afraid of the ADA

Not being from the US, I had this idea in my head that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must be awesome. I mean, come on! It’s been 20 years now! Ramps to every building, disability friendly policies, accessible washrooms in every hotel lobby! I get all starry-eyed just thinking about it.

People with disabilities who have actually been in the US are probably either rolling their eyes or giggling at my naivety.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read about airlines being fined for not following the ADA, despite repeated complaints from customers that they hadn’t been, continuing issues with post-secondary education, online content, and accessibility for students who are blind or otherwise vision-impaired (no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers) and students needing to sue in order to get attention to the fact that the new content delivery system was not accessible to them (again, no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers), the Attorney General of Massachusetts needing to step in to demand movie theater chains provide accessible content in all their theaters… The list goes on, while “advocates” tell people with disabilities not to sue because it upsets the non-disabled when they do.

And maybe those “advocates” have a point. Because even though one can find example after example after example of law suits – threatened or actually carried out – before businesses, universities, and even government offices will follow the ADA and “allow” people with disabilities the “rights” they’re guaranteed in the US, some folks still feel the need to produce opinion pieces claiming these lawsuits are frivolous and that the people who take them on are parasites (Content Warning: John Stossel).

Under the ADA, Olson notes, fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.

The law has also unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by “professional litigants” who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.

Some disabled people have benefited from changes effected by the ADA, but the costs are rarely accounted for. If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare? Extra-wide bathroom stalls that reduce the overall number of toilets are only some of the unaccounted-for costs of the ADA. And since ADA modification requirements are triggered by renovation, the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations as a way of avoiding the expense.

I feel like I’ve taken apart aspects of this argument before, mostly because it seems the arguments get repeated over and over until one wants to make a Bingo Card and be done with it. But, to save me some keystrokes: Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance (there’s a transcript to the video linked there in the comments 1), Needs Are Not Special and Accommodation is not “Special Treatment” (written by s.e.), Why Being Nice Isn’t Enough (which is meant to address the “just ask for accommodations!” part), “Bad Cripple” – you know, the fakers who are just scamming the incredibly generous disability system for the huge cheques they can rake in – oh, and we’ve got multiple posts just here at FWD about workplace accommodations being treated like a huge drama and a favour that doesn’t need to be granted rather than a right, people who work with actual people with disabilities assuming all people on prescription drugs are dangerous addicts, and how the opposite of disabled is not employable.

I think my favourite bit of the quote above, though, is the “If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare?” I love that sentence, I want to cross stitch it on a little sampler and hang it up on my wall.

A Very Short List Of Businesses You Are Unlikely To See Wheelchair Users In:

1. Ones that don’t have a ramp to allow access to wheelchair users.

Seriously, that’s the basic criteria for shopping in this one-wheelchair-user household. We choose our restaurants, our coffee shops, our bookstores, our yarn stores, our sex toy shops, our grocery stores, our housing, our favourite tea place all on whether or not the shops themselves allow wheelchair users to enter. We don’t even go to one of the malls in the city because half the shops are too crowded to allow wheelchair user, so yes, John Stossel, if your business doesn’t accommodate wheelchair users chances are you don’t have many customers who are wheelchair users.

(Gentle reader, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence 20 years after the ADA passed into law.)

Honestly, that John Stossel is paid actual money to write opinion pieces that amount to “cripples are just sue-happy freaks, the ADA is why the Exxon oil spill happened, and service animals like snakes are ruining it for everyone else” – especially while service animals are constantly being turned away illegally – is especially irritating when we’re still fighting for something as simple as the right to be paid minimum wage for our work.

  1. Back when I wrote this I felt like I was making a very witty point by not “choosing” to be “nice” and putting the transcript up – if you wait for people to be “nice” then you wait a long time! I wouldn’t do that now because I think it’s shitty to make people sit around and wait so I can score some sort of political point.

13 responses to “John Stossel Wants YOU! To Be Afraid of the ADA”

  1. Melusin

    Thank you for this post and the links to previous posts. Here in the UK we’re getting the current round of attacks on Disability Benefits/accomodations, when the law and the benefits are already as faulty as hell.

    Regarding the Disability Discrimination Act here, which officially covers mental health problems, I worked, briefly, at an apprenticeship at a company. I’d applied because they had a “positive about disability” logo and the apprenticeship scheme had a really good equal opportunities and disability statement. I disclosed my mental health problems and diagnoses down to the medication I was on.

    Starting coincided with a wave of depression and anxiety, partially brought on by the move for the job and the anxieties of starting a new job. It affected my work a bit in the first couple of days, then more as the reactions to it from work got more and more negative. Every time it meant taking time out of the work, I offered to catch up/stay later/come in on different day/catch up on the work from home. I was told not to. When my disabilities became more apparent at work, and I once had to leave early because of an anxiety attack, I was given a performance review telling me that letting my emotions effect my work and “getting upset” was unprofessional, as was the speed I was working at. Stating that I have clinical depression and could not help things like crying was ignored.

    Finally, after this performance review, I emailed one of the directors who had appeared sympathetic to explain I had serious problems with depression, that I could easily work around them if accomodations were made (working from home, flexible working or similar). I explained my symptoms.

    The next day I was called into a meeting and told if I missed any more work (this included being late because of mental health related problems, leaving early, missing days) they would let me go and how they could not make any accomodations. I spent the day trying not to cry at my desk and failing, and being pointedly ignored by co-workers. The next day I was let go.

    I did try to complain, but by this point losing the job and the bullying I had received there meant I didn’t have the spoons to go through the full complaints procedure, and my depression was so bad that I eventually decided, with my family, that dwelling on it for the length of a complaints procedure, even to get the “positive about disability” mark removed, would be too bad for me and make me iller. I still feel bad that another PWD might work there and go through the same thing. and that I haven’t prevented that.

    (Apologies if this comment is too long, I have tried to edit it and will edit it more/happily have it edited by mods. I just wanted to explain the full detail

  2. Jack

    Has any group – any, in the history of anywhere, ever – been treated well just because they sat down and said “When you get a minute, if you could, please.”? I’ve been told I’m cynical because I’ve always said that people as a group will treat you as badly as you let them get away with.

    But I’m just wondering if there’s a shred of evidence that being “nice” (quiet, undemanding, well behaved, and so on. *roll eyes*) as a group actually gets anything done.

  3. Melusin

    I haven’t before and thanks for linking to it, it definitely looks like something I should be aware of and the calls to action on it are things that I can definitely do.

  4. codeman38

    Wow. Stossel even cites the very same sources as the Penn & Teller clip— a higher-up at the Cato Institute (albeit a different one than P&T interviewed), and Greg Perry. It’s not even an original argument!

  5. Androgynoussissygirl

    When John Stossel wrote “more money for parasites” he was congratulating himself for getting paid to write this filth.

  6. sundiszno

    Thank you so very much for this, Anna. It’s just all kinds of perfect.

  7. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

    Don’t feel bad about your naivete, Anna. I live in the US, and until I was diagnosed with disabling conditions, I thought the ADA was pretty freakin’ awesome, too. Rights for disabled people! It’s the law! Glory, halleluyah! Humankind is evolving! You, too, will be protected! Er, um, I mean, so long as you have the spoons, the money, and the emotional support to sue someone every time you very nicely/very firmly/very persistently/very whatever-ly ask him/her/them to be in compliance with the ADA and he/she/they ignore you.

    As for being “nice” about this state of affairs, I can only quote the lyrics from one of my favorite songs by Malvina Reynolds:

    “It isn’t nice to dump the groceries,
    Or to sleep in on the floor,
    Or to shout our cry of freedom
    In the hotel or the store,
    It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
    You told us once, you told us twice,
    But if that is freedom’s price,
    We don’t mind.”

  8. Jayn

    I have to admit, when I heard my father was going to have to ensure his new storefront was going to have to be wheelchair accessible, I thought it was a little ridiculous (his main clientele are fishermen–not an occupation that lends itself to people with mobility issues). But, like so many other things, ’tis better to have the accommodations and not need them, than to need them and not have them. And since it was a new building, not a major issue to make those arrangements (the old one was so crowded at times it was difficult to navigate as a TAB)

  9. Jay

    Stossel: “the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations”

    .. I like how he differentiates between “needed” renovations (cosmetic updates? new equipment?) and accommodations, which, apparently, are not “needed”.

  10. Yasona

    I can barely express my rage at the article by Stossel. I spent all day at school navigating the extra long ways to class because they hide the elevators, and then whenever I need to use the restrooms, the majority of them are not handicap accessible (no handicap stalls, no grab rails, no door openers). Since I’m not paraplegic, but on crutches most often, I can sort of navigate the restrooms but not without a huge amount of difficulty. And Stossel thinks that the wider stalls are inconveniencing able-bodied people who need more than one toilet to use? I’ll never get why it’s okay to treat disabled people as an inconvenience, when it’s not okay for any TAB to do so to another.

  11. Sharon Wachsler

    I LOVE that you put “Trigger Warning: John Stossel.”

    I detest John Stossel so much, I can’t see his name without getting incoherent with rage. He has always had it in for PWDs, but to be fair, he’s an offensive, oppressive shithead toward basically everyone who doesn’t line his pockets (big industry).

    He did a piece several years ago about people with MCS, which was the most vile piece of filth and lies you can imagine. (In addition to the obvious problems with the piece, I knew the back story of how he and his producer lied and took advantage of the people they interviewed for it.)

    This is the man who went on record as saying that organic food is dangerous and unhealthy, including various straight-up lies that were so easily disputable — with, you know, these weird things called “facts” and “data” — that his network was finally forced to make a public apology and retract the most blatant and egregious lies.

    He’s won awards from corporate/industry groups for his “work.” So, clearly he doesn’t have any biases for which he gets paid big bucks to spew about how big, bad, mean disabled people (or any consumers/regular people) are hurting the poor, defenseless corporations.

  12. Kevin M. Murphy

    I first read about this from my brother, an architect specializing in ADA
    http://jeromymurphy.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/john-stossel-continues-to-frivolously-attack-the-ada/
    I’m fed up with Stossel and his kind lying about this great piece of legislation. Let’s put pressure on Stossel and Fox to stop lying about this important law that has broad bipartisan support.

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