Monday, January 30, 2012

Ron Paul: Americans with Disabilities Act should have never been enacted

I consider the ADA one of the most significant accomplishments in the legal legacy of the United States. It's important to note that the legislation received support from both sides of political isle. A product of the civil rights movement associated with the left it was signed into law by George Bush with further amendments passed under Bush junior. I think it's important to take any ADA discussions out of political affiliation context as support for it has been broad if not universal. That's why I found it surprising that a prominent  politician  with an otherwise very appealing platform spoke so fiercely against it. I understand why he would say that, but I also see the flaw in his logic.  As much as I like the man I will speak up when I think he's wrong.

The act places a number of burdens and limitations on private businesses, extends the powers of the government, creates additional administration, increases spending on programs and control, while Paul's platform aims at limiting the government and empowering individuals by lifting the restrictions placed on them. The problem with that reasoning is that there is no substitution for the ADA that would allow me to lead an active life in my wheelchair. I've heard stands on disability legislation  similar to Paul's  from a number of Polish economically liberal politicians before. Instead of programs that would require accessibility and job creation they would call for the government to stay out and offer tax cuts for families allowing them to remodel the house or get a wheelchair accessible van.  While I don't know what Ron Paul's whose integrity I have always admired views on every one of those particular issues are, I see how it would fit the strict economic liberalism doctrine.  As a person with a disability I can say that such measures are not sufficient. I don't want to rely on my family to be able to move around. I want to achieve my own goals using my own body and my own intellect. If it wasn't for the ADA I wouldn't be able to ride a bus because I couldn't get on it. I wouldn't go into a store, a movie theatre or a coffee shop because I would be faced with stairs. I would not even cross the street if there wasn't a ramp with a proper angle.

 You could always say that business owners would eventually see the need to have a number of those things in place because they would recognize that disabled people are customers too, but that is a naive thing to say. Wheelchairs are not inventions of the last 20 years, people with disabilities have been around forever and yet it didn't motivate places were not accessible until they were forced by law.  There was nothing stopping the architects from including these types of solution 30, 40 years ago. Except for the cost- you will not spend money until you have to.  It's not that people in wheelchairs decided to come out of the shadows in the last 20 years because of some global awareness. It's that we we're finally given the right kind of support. ADA has done wonders for people with disabilities, their empowerment, opportunities and ego. The pure economic liberalism doctrine was pretty much abandoned when it became obvious that you simply can't leave the market to regulate itself although it makes a nice theory. You need some form of oversight and regulation to prevent abuse and level the field . Some things look good on paper. Like when I read about the calls to get rid of social security/mandatory retirement programs from different part of the world. It sounds nice to say,  you keep the money  and make your own future, but what happens if you're not smart, you blow it and you're left with nothing? Should we just let you die? Or should we just let you become a burden and just plan for it beforehand?

 I understand the fear of American right wing politicians of creating new special interest groups and elevating new minorities. But what ADA does is not simply giving perks from having some diagnosis but it's essential to self realization and independent living. Imagine not being able to do anything by yourself through no fault of your own and letting your intellect and energy go to waste. I guess the ADA critics would say tough luck, you are in a wheelchair get used to it. Or wait 20 years, maybe someone will decide to put a ramp in someday. It's very dangerous to attack a bill that created a wealth of opportunity for many like me, especially if the comments come from people who can never fully relate or are affected by it. It is very disappointing because I believe that Paul is a capable politician and I would like to see many of his ideas implemented. Some of his most extreme positions are very unlikely to gain political support if he was elected so it's not that the future of ADA would be in jeopardy anyway, but it's sad that he fails to understand how it transformed our reality?

If anything I think ADA is very smart in its holistic approach. That it regulates issues all across the board. That it introduces standards everyone abides. That it addresses issues before they become major social problems. And that it spreads the cost of creating a more accessible reality rather than having it burden the budget.  And it is a trade off- if you don't have ramps you get an entire population that is disenfranchised from public life and completely dependent on others. If you don't make provisions in education which is a great equalizer you're not giving an important segment of the society a fighting chance. And I think it's better to have people work than to have them collect unemployment even if some of the policies are a pain to deal with. And I think inclusion and self realization of people with disabilities are key not only to their well being but a better society in general. Because it's easy to say, the government shouldn't deal with this area area or impose strict standards, but if we didn't set it up properly it would  snowball to a point where it becomes a bigger and more costly problem. And we know by then it would come back to rely on public money.

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