Image by Philippe Put
According to a Bloomberg poll in August, of all the vile things Donald Trump has said and done, his mocking of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski seems to be what voters find most unforgivable.
If the disabled community is responsible for driving away enough voters from Trump to cost him the election, thus saving our country and perhaps the world, I’ll be honored to have played a role, however small, in squashing him like a bug. But I’ll wish it could have been for a better reason.
Yeah, Trump’s an equal opportunity idiot. What else is new? But as a person who uses a wheelchair, the kind of stupid shtick Trump did is far down on my list of actions and words that make me feel offended and threatened. Disrespect for people with disabilities goes far beyond sheer mockery. That’s just the tip of the disrespect iceberg. I’m much more cornered about those who disrespect and undermine people with disabilities from behind a veneer of politeness. This kind of disrespect is much more commonplace and much more dangerous than open mockery, but doesn’t stir up nearly as much outrage.
For example, let us examine the recent disrespectful actions of Representative Ted Poe, Republican of Texas. Now as far as I know, Poe has never gone out in public and faked a spasm or talked like he has rocks in his mouth to get a cheap laugh. No, he has done something far worse. He has sponsored legislation called the ADA Education and Reform Act. In essence, it requires that before any legal action can be taken against a private business for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the business owner must be given notice precisely detailing the violation and then given up to 180 days to do something about it.
The ADA was signed into law twenty-six years ago. Any business owner who can comply but hasn’t by now either doesn’t intend to comply or thinks she doesn’t have to. Every day, disabled folks are denied access to something important because of that attitude. Around the corner from me is a restaurant with a step up to the entrance that could easily be ramped. Across the street is a medical clinic with x-ray machines and scales that are not accessible for wheelchair users.
Adding Poe’s amendment to the ADA would help recalcitrant business owners who want to ignore the law by making enforcement more difficult. It postpones justice for those of us who benefit greatly from the civil-rights protections of the ADA.
That’s very offensive and disrespectful. It makes me wish Poe would openly mock us like Trump. At least then his contempt would be on full display.
So I guess it’s good to know that disrespecting disabled people can be politically costly. But even if it gets rid of Trump once and for all, people with disabilities will continue to be routinely slapped around by more serious—but less obvious—manifestations of disrespect.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."