Autistic Future
July 29th, 2016

ADA 26 And A Massacre On The Other Side Of The World

ADA isn’t just a tool I’ve used in every law school clin­ic and legal intern­ship so far. It’s the ground I walk on, the air I breathe. The anniver­sary of ADA’s pas­sage and my birth­day are so close that we could have a tan­dem par­ty, but I’m a cou­ple of years younger. It turned 26 a cou­ple of days ago. Next week, I turn 24. I’ve heard sto­ries of life before it. I had a dyslex­ic grand­fa­ther who grew up long before there was even the Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Act, while whis­pers of Amer­i­can eugen­ics were still in the air, but I haven’t known any oth­er world than this.

I’ve bare­ly known a world where I did­n’t under­stand the need for sweep­ing fed­er­al dis­abil­i­ty rights statutes like ADA. ADA, unfold­ed to full size by its regs and boot­strapped fur­ther out­ward through case law like Olm­stead into hope for hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, is beau­ti­ful. Even the regs, many of them, are beau­ti­ful. I’m still a stu­dent, still very new to this, and I already know that regs aren’t usu­al­ly beau­ti­ful. It isn’t just swords and shields for lawyers. ADA is a strong­hold in which peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties can live our lives. It helps us main­tain bod­i­ly lib­er­ty and civ­il lib­er­ties, go to school, work, raise fam­i­lies, do things we enjoy, and gen­er­al­ly get by with­out being sub­ject­ed to harass­ment, bar­ri­ers, and indig­ni­ties at ran­dom and with no recourse.

It does­n’t pro­tect every­one per­fect­ly all the time, but we’re infi­nite­ly bet­ter off than we would be with­out it. Dis­abil­i­ty is met with igno­rance, most­ly, low expec­ta­tions, and fail­ure to make even inex­pen­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tions and accom­mo­da­tions that just plain make sense, but hate is out there, too. Even in sta­ble, wealthy, demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties, there are those who wish we would just “dis­ap­pear.” Every so often, one of those peo­ple feels the need to issue us a reminder. That hatred, and the indif­fer­ence that allows it to fes­ter and some­times explode, are Amer­i­can prob­lems, too. If you’re not con­vinced, read the com­ments on any Eng­lish-lan­guage news source with a pri­mar­i­ly U.S. audi­ence that cov­ered the mas­sacre. See the seri­ous big­ots and trolls. See, almost worse, the arm­chair philoso­phers dis­cussing the val­ue of cer­tain kinds of peo­ple and whether it was real­ly so wrong.

I like ADA com­mem­o­ra­tions because the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty needs more cel­e­bra­tions, but that was unusu­al­ly hard to enjoy this year. It was too easy to remem­ber just how ten­u­ous­ly-per­mit­ted dis­abled exis­tence is. The forces just out­side of the laws that shel­ter our lives, those of gen­er­al applic­a­bil­i­ty and those specif­i­cal­ly deal­ing with dis­abled peo­ple, felt a lit­tle too close for com­fort, a lit­tle too ready to break through.