Friday, May 29, 2020

Navigating the New Normal

Now that the stay-at-home orders are being lifted in some places, there is talk about a new normal.  What has become the old normal in cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan will be spreading to more rural areas that have not experienced living with restaurants that moved outdoors onto city sidewalks.  This old normal that blocks pedestrian travel is a nightmare for people who are blind, visually impaired, or using walkers and wheel chairs.  Tables and chairs are usually put next to the street, but servers walk in and out of the businesses at a fast pace as customers find or leave their seats.

If people who are living with disabilities are not included in the decision-making, the history of these communities will come full circle to a time when they were excluded rather than included.  We know what that looks like in ann Arbor because there are Grandfather laws.  These laws allow buildings to be exempt from having ramps, elevators that are used by the public, and doorways that provide easy access. 

After a fire, the Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store was returned to its original pre-ADA architecture.  A few years ago, Literati Bookstore was allowed to open in one of these old buildings that has three floors.  Events are held on the top floor where the coffee shop is also located.  IF a customer who wants to attend an event has a disability, the clerks will move the event downstairs to the main floor or they will turn on the intercom so the event can be heard downstairs as well as upstairs. 

I really wanted to hear an author and buy one of his books on an evening when I did not have the strength to climb the steep stairs.  I did not want to force the clerks to move everything downstairs, so I sat in a chair they brought for me on the main floor and just listened.  Another customer, also a senior citizen saw the accommodation that was made for me and requested a chair too.  That made me feel so much better because, as you know, those of us who live with disabilities really don’t want to attract more attention than we are already getting.  After the event, and during the book signing, a clerk took the book I purchased to the author on the upper floor and had it autographed.  I did not have the opportunity to meet the author or ask questions along with the other participants.  As “accommodating” as the young and apologetic and kind clerks were, this bookstore lost my business.

Do we really want to go back to the old normal?  Do we want to go back to the days that our grandfathers and grandmothers endured?  Watch the movies, Annie and Newsies, that are very entertaining as they show what life was like after the Spanish flu and during the Great Depression to see what their lives were like and how people with disabilities were portrayed.

I have been asked why I did not fight the discrimination I have experienced and chose, instead, to educate.  The answer to that question can be found in Seeing Lessons:  The Story of Abigail Carter and America’s First School for the Blind.  In 1832, Doctor Samuel G. Howe opened his home to young blind children like 10 year old Abigail and her sister.  As students were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, walking, recitation, music on the piano, and voice lessons, they were also taught to ignore slights, insults, and bullying.

The long history of the blind and visually impaired has been primarily one of coping rather than living.  Writers who are functioning with many different levels of vision loss are finally finding their voices and sharing their experiences through their memoirs, poetry, journals, blogs, books, and stories.  I hope more of these writers will create works of historical fiction and nonfiction to record the highs and lows of this amazing community that has been so welcoming to me.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Why Don’t We Get No Respect?: Part 2 of Why Don’t We Count: The Stimulus and the US Census are just the Tip of the Iceberg

In my previous blog post, I identified with Charlie Brown who just keeps trusting and trying to kick that football as Lucy keeps pulling it away from him.  Now I am identifying with Rodney Dangerfield, the stand-up comic, who is best known for his line, “I don’t get no respect.”  He would fit right in with the people on Social Security Disability and Social Security who live near or below the poverty line.  When it came to the stimulus, we were at the back of the line behind people who, it is reported, have been dead for at least two years.    These must be the same people who are voting while people who are vision impaired are going to court because they cannot cast absentee ballots.

Why don’t we get no respect?  Because we have been groomed by our families, health care professionals, rehabilitation counselors, social workers, educators, or peers not to make waves.  We are carefully taught that it is OUR job to adjust and not to expect the world to adjust to us.  The people and organizations that are looking out for us mean well.  They wabt us to be happy.  They don’t want to watch us weighed down by the struggles of everyday living as we also struggle to live with disabilities that are temporary, permanent, or chronic.  In other words, people either want to see us healed or happy.

There are two books, The Mayo clinic Guide to Stress Free Living and The Mayo clinic Handbook for Happiness, that aim to make our struggles manageable.  Books like these offer temporary solutions in a toxic environment that needs radical changes.  I would rather spend my time reading the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 1990, the same year that I entered library school.  Without a lot more wave making, the ADA will not be enforced.  As I look back over the almost 73 years that I have lived with congenital glaucoma and the 30 years I’ve lived with cataracts, I have only one regret.  If I had it all to do over again, I would have consulted a lawyer as frequently as I consulted a medical specialist, government agency, or organization for the blind.

I am studying how to make waves by watching On the Basis of Sex, a movie about the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; reading Women and US Politics:  The Spectrum of Political Leadership; and considering the implications of “the nature of bias and the capacity of law to reduce inequality and promote social change” as they are being explored by Jamillah Bowman Williams, J.D., PH.D., Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University who can be heard on You Tube.

At a time in history when the rest of the world is experiencing the social distancing that the blind and visually impaired have had to endure for centuries and when medical and legal experts are debating what patients should receive treatment when resources are scarce, those of us who are loving what is left need to be prepared as never before to fight for what is left.  We must respect ourselves and work together if we are going to be included in the business, legal, and nmoral decisions that our nation and our world are making.