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Washington Post editoral: Claims Against Common Sense

From: Jamal Mazrui <empower@smart.net>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 09:14:57 +0400
Message-Id: <199811171314.IAA04111@gemini.smart.net>
To: <nfb-talk@nfbnet.org>, <blindtlk@nfbnet.org>, <webwatch-l@teleport.com>, <easi@maelstrom.stjohns.edu>, <vicug-l@maelstrom.stjohns.edu>, <uaccess-l@tracecenter.org>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
From the web page 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1998-11/16/010l-111698-idx.html

Claims Against Common Sense

By William Raspberry

Monday, November 16, 1998; Page A25

 If I promise to go back to being my old sweet self tomorrow,
would you let me get a little meanness off my chest today?

Thanks.

Randy Tamez: Get a grip.

Tamez, left blind by treatment for a brain tumor a dozen years
ago, has sued the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation
Commission for violating his rights. The basis, according to the
Associated Press: He can't access the system's Web site for bus
and train schedules. That, in his view, is a violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It is, in my view, a clear violation of common sense.

Of course I sympathize with Tamez's difficulties. Who wouldn't
sympathize with a 36-year-old guy suddenly rendered unable to
see anything beyond shapes, shadows and light? Blindness must be
a terrible handicap, and I would applaud any genius who comes up
with a device to make it less burdensome.

But someone already has come up with something that works quite
well for most of us: Web sites with lots of graphics, sound,
video clips and such that make it possible to provide useful
information in user-friendly ways (and also to facilitate the
advertising that makes many Web sites worth providing in the
first place). Apparently a return to a text-based system would
make it easier for the visually impaired, though arguably less
attractive for the rest of us. Is that a violation?

I hope you don't think I'm just being nasty to Tamez. I've been
waiting nearly a year for a chance to be nasty to the disabled
folk who complained about Rick Fink's nice-guy gesture. Fink,
divisional maintenance manager for the 97 Wendy's restaurants in
Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina, decided that while
the company was undertaking renovations to make the bathrooms
and other facilities more accessible to wheelchair users, he'd
go an accommodating step farther. He positioned two regular
tables near the door and marked them with the stylized
wheelchair symbol.

You know what? Some representatives of disabled groups accused
Fink of establishing a "disabled ghetto." "We want the
opportunity to be there without the stigma or labeling," one of
them said. Are those choice near-the-door parking spaces a
"disabled ghetto" as well? Get a grip.

Look, I think the ADA is a terrific idea. The wider doors,
ramped entrances and roomy, handrailed toilet stalls must be a
godsend for those who need them -- with no skin off the noses of
those who don't. Similarly with wheelchair-accessible curbs and
other modifications -- particularly in cases of new construction.

I still remember a column by Charles Krauthammer praising the
subtle ramping at Washington's Kennedy Center -- an
architectural boon for wheelchair users and utterly unnoticed by
others.

What sparks my meanness is the insistence by some among the
disabled that (1) their disability be accommodated and (2) that
we take no notice of it. I mean, for instance, the people who
insist on putting chair-lift devices on all public buses -- even
when relatively few wheelchair users are among the riders and
even though it can be significantly cheaper for local
governments to furnish door-to-door transport by taxicab or limo
than to retrofit all the buses.

I mean the deaf guy who wanted to discuss some controversy with
a colleague of mine, using one of those phone devices that
involve speaking to an intermediary who then teletypes the
message to the caller's phone screen, and then waits for a typed
response that he reads to the callee. It can take awhile. My
time-pressed colleague finally offered a deal: Put your comments
in a letter, and I'll respond in detail by return mail.

The guy was furious. He didn't have time to write letters, he
said, clearly resenting the fact that other readers who wanted
to talk to columnists didn't have to write letters.

Get a grip.

A part of my problem, I suppose, is that I am utterly unable to
extract a useful principle from any of my resentments. Sometimes
I'm happy for the accommodations our society is making for the
"differently abled." Sometimes I think they ask too much or are
ungrateful and whiny. And sometimes I think, with Krauthammer:
Why, what a sensible, nonobtrusive, nonhumiliating solution.
Shouldn't all our accommodations be like that?

But, of course, they can't be. Sometimes the handicap means that
you can't do things the way everybody else does them, that you
have to accommodate to your own situation. By picking up the
phone and calling the transit authority's information line, for
instance.

There, I feel so much better.


          (c) Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
Received on Tuesday, 17 November 1998 08:16:10 GMT

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