Why the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act Felt Bittersweet

A few weeks ago, many disability rights advocates celebrated the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed this landmark legislation into law.

I wanted to be in a celebratory mood on the anniversary of the ADA. Yet, as I suddenly remembered how far people with disabilities still need to come before they have the same opportunities as able-bodied people like me, the anniversary felt a little bittersweet.

Now, don’t get me wrong—in spite of the statement I just said, I think that the ADA is arguably the most significant piece of civil rights legislation in the last fifty years (the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965). It is a piece of legislation that improves the lives of millions of Americans, and it is a piece of legislation which, in many cases, enables disabled people to have access to the same opportunities that their able-bodied counterparts have.

While the legislation has improved the lives of millions, it still has a way to go to give disabled people the same access as able-bodied people.

For example, while transit access has improved for people with disabilities, they don’t have access equal to their able-bodied counterparts. One need not look further than the fact that subway systems in New York, Chicago, and Boston, for example, do not have universal wheelchair access (though New York’s situation is much worse than that of Boston or Chicago).

Furthermore, while many buildings now have ADA access, the quality of that access (in the form of things like elevators and ramps) can widely vary. Sometimes the ADA access is top-notch, and sometimes the access leaves something to be desired (everyone can probably think of examples of unreliable elevators).

There is the potential for people with disabilities in many cases to have opportunities similar to able-bodied people like me. But in many areas, that potential hasn’t been fully realized, even though the ADA was passed over a quarter century ago. And there is a certain disappointment, a certain bittersweetness, that I feel as a result of this potential that hasn’t been fully realized.

But why should you all, as readers, care about my being bittersweet about the anniversary of the ADA, let alone one of the reasons I feel bittersweet? I think all of you should care because my bittersweetness is a reminder for all of us that the advancement of disabled persons’ rights did not end with the ADA. Instead, the uneven progress in accessibility for people with disabilities is a reminder that there is still much to advocate for.

Reflecting on the Events in Charlottesville

As my readers know, Blind Injustice is a blog where I talk about injustices that some of us may be blind to or blindly commit. I have that focus because I feel that there are many forms of injustice that we are complacent to or downright commit without realizing.

However, given the events of the past few days, I think it’s important to somewhat divert from the focus of the blog and talk about a very visible and hateful incident (or set of incidents) of injustice. Namely, the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The events in Charlottesville demonstrate that there are still injustices which are very painful, overt, and visible to everyone except those committing the injustices and their supporters. Among those injustices on display were bigotry, white supremacy, and calls for ethnic cleansing.

While this blog hopefully exposes some of us to a number of blind injustices, I hope that we also don’t ignore very visible forms of injustice such as what was shown by white nationalists in Charlottesville. To the contrary, all of us must call out the white supremacist terrorism of last weekend for what it was, and denounce it for what it was.

Addressing Colin Kaepernick

I am going to start this post by doing something unusual—comparing the career and season statistics of two National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks. No worries, though, because this comparison serves a greater purpose…

Quarterback #1’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 58.4, 1.74 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 86.1 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 59.8, 2.4 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 88.9 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 52.9, 1.36 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 75.8 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 59.2, 4 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 90.7 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1 is Cam Newton, who had a down year last year but was the 2015 Offensive MVP and is still viewed as one of the bright young stars of the NFL. Quarterback #2 is Colin Kaepernick, who is currently not on an NFL roster.

While I am sure other football fans can find statistics where Newton compares favorably to Kaepernick, the point of this comparison is not to say whether Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback. But the mere fact that the unemployed Kaepernick has statistics even comparable to a former NFL Offensive MVP should tell people one thing about the current state of Kaepernick’s career: his unemployment has nothing to do with football, and everything to do with the fact that many of us (myself included, at times) resent athletes who challenge our society’s status quo.

The most recent example of this is with Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers player refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year, and is not on an NFL roster this year thus far.

However, this is far from the first time that an athlete faced severe consequences for challenging the societal status quo. Muhammad Ali, who was almost universally praised after his death last year, was reviled by many for his refusal to serve in Vietnam and his outspokenness on racial issues. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forced to return the medals they won in the 1968 Olympics because of their Black Power salutes in a medal ceremony while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. And a big stir was made when Magic Johnson came out as being HIV-positive at a time when HIV/AIDS was still stigmatized, only to play in the 1992 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and the 1992 Olympics.

If one were to consider Kaepernick, not as an isolated incident, but within the greater history of activist athletes, the conclusion is that there is a resentment toward athletes who challenge the status quo. Such resentment has stayed strong, even though decades have changed.

To those who feel that resentment, I urge all of you to at least hear out Kaepernick, even if you don’t agree with him (myself included, as I didn’t agree with his not voting in 2016). I urge everyone to hear him out because, when athletes double up as activists, it is often for good reason and often produces positive results for our society. For example, Muhammad Ali’s outspokenness on racial issues positively contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, and Magic Johnson’s openness on testing HIV-positive started to remove the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It remains to be seen whether Kaepernick will make contributions as positive as those of people like Johnson and Ali, but given the fact that positive things can and often do happen when athletes double up as activists challenging the status quo, we should at least give him a chance.

Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick. By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Colin Kaepernick) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colin_Kaepernick_-_San_Francisco_vs_Green_Bay_2012.jpg

 

A Call to Reflect on LGBTQ+ Issues

This week, I am yet again writing in the aftermath of a very public and visible injustice.

Last week, I wrote on how many of us considered the suicide from Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, and suicide in general, selfish. This week, I am writing in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s banning of transgender people from the military.

There are many things which are wrong and unjust about the transgender military ban. For starters, he is factually wrong on the claim that transgender people are medically costly for the military; in the absolute worst-case scenario envisioned by a Rand Corporation study of the cost of transgender health care, there would be “a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” He was also factually wrong on the claim that transgender military cause disruption—just ask the United Kingdom military chiefs who praised transgender troops or the Israeli military people saying that transgender troops are not a disruption. And then there is the fact that active transgender members of the military are left in limbo as a result of Trump’s tweets. There were other wrongs and injustices that Trump committed with the transgender military ban, but those are just a few that come to my mind.

But I don’t want to spend this entire post bashing Trump for this action, because quite honestly, there are probably hundreds of blog posts which do that job already. Instead, I want to use Trump’s action as an opportunity for self-reflection among all of us.

Namely, for those of us who claim to be pro-LGBTQ+ (like Trump did in his convention speech last summer), we should reflect on whether our actions back up any pro-LGBTQ+ words.

There are a few questions I want to ask, in order to help others reflect:

  1. Do you actually do anything to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals?
  2. Do you speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ injustices in public, on social media, at home, the homes of other family or friends, or anywhere else?
  3. Do you go beyond the level of having a “gay friend” or “trans friend” (akin to the “black friend” idea), and actually do something to stand up for the best interests of that LGBTQ+ friend?
  4. Are you just welcoming of LGBTQ+ friends, or are you actually affirming of their identities?
  5. Do you really believe that LGBTQ+ people deserve the same opportunities as straight people, or do you believe that there are limitations on what they can do?
  6. What do you say to others when you talk about your LGBTQ+ friends?

I urge every one of you, as my readers, to honestly reflect on these questions, and do some reflection outside of the scope of these questions. Reflecting on questions like these helped me realize that there is more I could do, and maybe will help some of you realize that there is more you can do. If you reflect on these questions and realize that some of your actions might not support your words on LGBTQ+ issues, then at least you can make positive changes. But if you don’t reflect on questions like these, you run the risk of being like President Trump—claiming to be pro-LGBTQ+, but performing actions which show the opposite.

Author’s Note: This was written at the last minute as a response to President Trump banning transgender people from the military. As such, there may be mistakes in this post. I apologize in advance for those mistakes.

Chester Bennington’s Death Needs to Be a Call to Help, Not Demonize

While I didn’t know Chester Bennington’s music all that well, it was still extremely saddening to hear that he committed suicide. He left behind family, including his six kids. He left behind fame, for all the music he made. And while I don’t know his financial situation, maybe he left behind some fortune as well. Just thinking about all that he left behind makes me really upset.

In response to his suicide, many of us have called him selfish. Some of us, like me at times in the past, thought that people like Bennington would automatically go to hell because, through killing himself, he automatically violated the commandment which says that “thou shall not kill.” And others of us may just shake our heads and ask this: “What would lead him to do such a horrible act against himself?”

The problem with all of these types of responses is that they show a lack of sensitivity to just how difficult depression is. These responses do not consider the fact that, in the minds of some with suicidal depression, this earth would be better without them and that the least selfish thing to do is to take one’s own life. These responses do not consider the fact that for some people with suicidal depression, taking one’s own life is a way to ease oneself of pain on this earth. People with deep, even suicidal, levels of depression grapple with these sorts of emotions.

These emotions, while crazy to people who don’t struggle with depression, is a reality for some people with deep levels of depression.

Our society needs to stop demonizing the fact that this deep, even suicidal, level of depression is the reality for some people. Demonization will take us nowhere.

Instead, the existence of suicidal thoughts and actions should instead be a call to help. Namely, a call to help others if you have a family member or friend going through suicidal thoughts, and a call to help yourself if you are going through suicidal thoughts yourself.

That call to help might differ from person to person, from situation to situation. Sometimes, a person needs to be reminded that he or she is loved and valued. Sometimes, you or a loved one needs a therapist. And sometimes, someone needs to just call the National Suicide Hotline (provided below).

By answering that call to help, you may save the life of a family member, a friend, or yourself.

Life can be difficult sometimes. It really can. But we are all in this life together, and I hope we can lift each other up enough to prevent future Chester Bennington-like situations.

National Suicide Hotline for the United States: 1-800-273-8255

Link to a list of international suicide hotlines through suicide.org

Author’s Note: I wrote this blog piece in the last few days as a response to Bennington’s death. As a result, while I always edit my posts, this particular post might have grammar mistakes since I wrote this at the last minute. I apologize in advance for those mistakes.