Tuesday, August 21, 2012

True awareness

My interest in disability law isn’t just something I invented or myself while I was figuring out what career path to take and weighing my options. It’s a legitimate field of concentration for any attorney. It’s an area, first and foremost, where people often don’t know their rights, are often neglected and mistreated that could involve anything rom building accessibility to education and employment. A fascinating scope for any lawyer, yet not that popular as a career choice.  I don’t think I’m special in that regard and I’m sure there’s plenty of people in wheelchairs facing some of the same issues I do every day. Yes, I might have more of an insight  into ADA related problems  than some of my able-bodied attorney friends, because my perspective it’s different as I know how to watch out for these things. If you don’t have a reason to spot them you will most likely miss them. The truth is, unless you have some reason to try and see the world from a wheelchair perspective, you will most likely not know about half of these things. A human reaction really. I don’t pay attention to a host of other people’s problems I’m sure. I don’t see a lot of them or never even thought about them, because unlike disability it wasn’t my experience. But then I’m made aware and I start to notice. My mom points out that this could be my niche. As this is a frequently overlooked field that can produce a consistent supply of cases and clients I have an all too visible personal reason to want to do this. But to me it’s not so much about being able to understand ADA better and have empathy for my clients’ concerns. It’s that ADA and its application concerns me today and always will.It’s more than a clever concentration, it’s my life. And getting people to care feels like my job. A lot of times I feel I can’t even make a dent in the wall trying to break through to the other side get someone to understand. But sometimes it feels like I did something right. A lot of my friends often say: I never paid attention to any of this until we spent time together. Or: I never knew how difficult it can be for you to just get around. One of them rented a house and was very excited to report that it had a ramp and I could visit her often. Another took me to the movies a few weeks ago and was amazed how I needed to go around a building to get off the sidewalk to the theatre and then I would roll through traffic. Because when you walk you really just go forward and there’s no need to pay attention. Someone who is a flight attendant was outraged to discover that elevator at their airport was all the way on the other side, a lot of time and effort wheeling back and forth. Not something you think about when all you had to do is jump on the escalator. A lot of bikers commented after my article about how they block wheelchair ramps and sidewalks that they simply didn’t know. One man told me that since he walks everywhere he never had to care where people tied their two wheeled vehicles as he can simply walk on to the street, but that it opened his eyes. A lot of my friends now pay attention to ramps and curb cuts, where they are, how visible and how far from each other. Often, I’m not even there. Many report things they found absurd. When a friend was driving through a neighborhood of white picket fences with  stairs in the front she wondered how I would get inside and it made her upset. That is my little victory. To get people to care about things they wouldn’t otherwise and feel passionate about it. You can fight the requirements or you can follow them either out of fear of losing  business or a  strong personal belief.   Because ADA will never truly work as long as people will simply view it as a nuisance, a technicality, something you need to get around. They need to see it as something that transforms people’s lives, reintroduces them to the society, allows them to be productive and fulfills their goals. Let’s be honest: People in wheelchairs are not large enough of a group to have a shopkeeper consider putting in a ramp otherwise not required by law. The cost would be too great and gains probably minimal. Nothing you can’t afford to lo  lose if it was optional. But to have more and more people have a strong positive emotional  reaction to it is priceless. It’s more than any penalty or lawsuit can accomplish. The true awareness comes from people becoming strong advocates for a cause that is not their own simply because it’s the right thing to do rather than fear of consequences. And this has to stem from getting the concept to spread in the local communities. Quite simply, sooner or later we have to get people to care.

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