This blog is dedicated to sharing strategies of empowerment for persons with disabilities.
Recently, I went to a local grocery store to get my weekly groceries. Just as I was getting out of my car, I spotted a large, shiny SUV in the handicapped space next to me. there was no visible placard or handicapped license plate. Emboldened with the knowledge that there was a law passed last year, in which the fines for a handicapped parking violation were increased from $100 to $200. The SILC was instrumental in the passage of this law. so I also knew that one could take a picture of an obvious violation, present the picture to the police and then there could be an enforcement of the law. So, offended by the possibility unfair use of a handicapped space and armed with that information I felt empowered to take the picture. What did I do with that picture? Well, at first nothing. But who doesn't remember those peer to peer lessons from grade school? "Don't be a tattletale!!" Plus there's the recent whistleblower disgrace in corporate and government affairs. The whistleblower fares only slightly better, if at all, that the disgraced person or corporation.
It bothered me that I did nothing. So I sat on that information for a month and felt sheepish about that. Then I had the occasion to drive to Washington, DC for the National Council on Independent Living's annual convention. Maybe I was fired up by a weeks worth of disability advocacy but on the way back, I took an informal survey of what appeared to be handicapped parking violations. My results were staggering. Almost 40% of the spaces were filled with cars and people lounging around in these spaces for their own conveniences. I saw expensive dogs being walked, cell phone conversations and plenty of people just running into the bathroom for a few minutes. What could it harm? Every time I saw that (or what I think I saw) I wanted to say something, but I fumed instead.
During the long drive back, as I thought about these things, I had a Popeye moment. “I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.” So I actually got off my butt and took my phone to the State Police. Of course, they told me to go to the local police where the alleged violation had occurred. Not to be dismayed, I made my way to the Colchester Police and filed the complaint. The officer that helped me was very informative what would happen and she pointed out a number of circumstances whereby a permit might not be obviously displayed. Nevertheless, she vowed to investigate.
As I was leaving, the officer remarked “It’s not on our radar, so if Citizens like you didn’t come forward, we’d never know about these things.”
What does this have to do with the ADA? Well, plenty, I think.
We recently marked the 21st is the anniversary of the ADA. And it’s also the 11th year after the signing of the most important decision for people with disabilities in America, the Olmstead act. Does anybody besides policy wonks and disability advocates know what Olmstead is? Olmstead is the most important decision for people with disabilities in America. It guarantees us the right to live independently in our own communities instead of institutions. The case was brought in Federal Court in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1999 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case. The ruling was based on Brown v. Board of education and the ADA. Both rulings led the way for integration.
On June 22, 1999, the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.
But the story of the Olmstead case begins with two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who had mental illness and developmental disabilities, and were voluntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit in the State-run Georgia Regional Hospital. Following the women's medical treatment there, mental health professionals stated that each was ready to move to a community-based program. However, the women remained confined in the institution, each for several years after the initial treatment was concluded. They filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for release from the hospital.
So, in 1999, the act is passed but hardly anybody gets out of institutions except for Elaine and Lois and a few others. I think we all agree that more needs to be done regarding enforcement of this most important legal decision. But if Olmstead is the enforcement mandate of the ADA, how come it’s not really happening? And more importantly, rather than complaining about what is, what can we do to make it better?
I’m reminded of Dr King and his interpretation of a similar civil rights situation. How Long?
How long will it be before the promise of Olmstead is reached?
How long will it be before we as individuals become whistleblowers when we see people being denied the right to live independently?
How long will it be before we really engage the larger community in making these things happen?
Well, these things generally don’t happen by themselves, so what WE can do is act! One way is to file a complaint, when we see a problem. Another way is to tell our stories. Write your newspaper, post on blogs. Use all the media at your disposal.
The media is an essential Olmstead tool. We (the community of persons with a disability) have stories to tell. Tragic stories, stories of success, stories of discrimination and stories about people gaining their independence. Stories like this will inspire others to action. Stories like this will inspire people to report abuse and file complaints. Stories like this will get the attention of the justice department, saving us the need to start and maintain complicated lawsuits.
Most importantly, before you get started on a complaint process, know at least some things about the law. The best way to get started on the law is to go to the Department of Justice website:
What does Olmstead have to do with a parking violation? Simply that if we don"t repose abuse and discrimination, then nothing will happen to change that. Now, like Paul Harvey used to say it's time for the rest of the parking lot story. Turns out that one of the adults had a temporary permit, while she recovered from a leg operation. Even thought the permit might not have been displayed, or perhaps they forgot the permit, I was satisfied that I had done something and that the legal apparatus had responded in a way that resolved the situation. Kudos to the Colchester Police. I’m actually glad it turned out this way, and I’m most pleased that these people were not setting a bad example for their children. So as much as we need to act, we should keep the laws in mind and consider all the situational factors. Parking violations are one thing, but getting out of a nursing home is quite another. Neither situation can be improved without our actions. Let me know your thoughts. Do you have a story to share? Comments are more than welcome.