When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 30 years ago, I was there. Yep, somehow, they even let the likes of me in. So, one thing we can say has changed a lot in 30 years is security was a hell of a lot laxer back then.
And when I left the White House grounds that day, nobody frisked me to make sure I wasn’t stealing any silverware. Of course, the whole ceremony was held outdoors on the White House lawn, which was probably a good thing in the long run. If all the crippled riffraff like me who were present had been inside the White House, the festivities would have inevitably devolved into a pie fight. Either that or somebody would have spazzed out and smashed a priceless bust of Lincoln or something like that. Who knows how that might have altered the course of history? I don’t want to think about it.
But one thing that hasn’t changed much over the last three decades is we still live in a world that’s full of chin-high tables. God how I hate those things. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You go into a bar or restaurant, and all they have are those tall tables with long-legged chairs. If you sit in a wheelchair, all you can do is rest your chin on the table. I feel like a dork when I sit at one of those tables, and I bet I look like one, too.
You’d think that by now, the ADA would have wiped out all vestiges of places with only chin-high tables. Because that’s how things are supposed to work, at least on paper. Congress passes a law or the Supreme Court issues a ruling and all the law-abiding citizens comply.
But if that’s how things really worked, then as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, all the racist segregationists would have immediately said, “Well, I guess that settles it. We’ll have to integrate all our schools starting tomorrow. Fair is fair.”
No, there will always be a certain number of scofflaws who adopt a “so sue me” attitude. They act like the law doesn’t apply to them. In the case of the ADA, a lot of business proprietors insist that they are “grandfathered in.” They think that, for some reason, Congress carved out an exemption specifically for them: No provision of this law shall be construed to apply to Bob’s Tavern.
What’s a pedestrian cripple like me to do when confronted with scofflaws like these? It would be nice if I could count on the government to vigorously enforce the ADA. It would be great if the governor or president would send in troops to confiscate the chin-high tables, take them out in the alley and chop them into pieces, like how they used to smash barrels of beer during prohibition. That sure would make an example of these arrogant scofflaws and serve as a powerful deterrent for others.
But that won’t happen. I know I have to be the enforcer. I could sue. Before there was an ADA, there was nothing I could do about chin-high tables. The good news is now if I want to take action, I can file a lawsuit in federal court. The bad news is now if I want to take action, I can file a lawsuit in federal court. What a daunting pain in the ass that would be, which is why I’ve never done it.
The main power the ADA gives pedestrian cripples like me is the power of shaming. Over time, sweeping civil rights laws transform cultures. They kick down enough doors until previously-invisible people become visible to the point where they’re noticed if they’re not around. Their presence becomes as much the norm as their absence was before.
So, I guess the problem is cripples haven’t been present enough in bars. The proprietors can put out nothing but chin-high tables, and nobody notices but us.
Thus, I can best assert the power of the ADA by frequently hitting the bars. Then maybe future generations of cripples will no longer be subjected to the indignation of chin-high tables.