People with Disabilities Get Dissed: A young woman responds to a supreme court case that weakens the ADA

No Rights HereToday I am angry and nervous, but mainly angry. I feel like something has been taken away from me, but I don't know what it is yet. I feel vulnerable, like my future is not as secure as it was a couple of days ago.

Why do I feel these things? On February 20th the Supreme Court just ruled that state employees with disabilities do not have the right to sue for damages in cases of discrimination, saying there is "no evidence of widespread inequity against people with disabilities." This is only one court decision (Garrett vs. Alabama) but its message, if not its effect, is clear.

According to the Supreme Court majority opinion, no "irrational state employment discrimination" was proven. Now, state employees with disabilities do not have the right to sue the state by federal law. I guess Chief Justice Rhenquist and the others think that some employment discrimination is therefore rational. As one of my friends would say: Fuck that shit. It is not right.

I have taken it for granted that people will accommodate me, my disabilities when I enter the workforce. I never used to think I would have a problem. (For example, I use a one-handed keyboard to type, so my employer must provide me with a one-handed keyboard to type.) But now, if they refuse I will not be able to sue the state for compensation. The Supreme Court is taking away their right to get monetary compensation (and justice) for state employment (and all employers that have fifteen or more employers) and on-the-job discrimination.

What About the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in aspects of access to public places and employment. Its importance is equivalent to people with disabilities is as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is for African Americans. This ruling denies an essential truth: the fact that people with disabilities are discriminated against every day.

"When the ADA was passed July 26th 1990. I was ten, and I had just had a brain aneurysm burst inside my head. I was still in the hospital when the ADA was signed."
When the ADA was passed July 26th 1990. I was ten, and I had just had a brain aneurysm burst inside my head. I was still in the hospital when the ADA was signed. I was paralyzed on the left side of my body at first, but I soon learned to walk. I had to relearn how to dress, climb stairs, cut food. My left-hand never regained full movement. I learned how to do pretty much everything with one hand. I cannot open it because it the part of my brain that sends signals to my left hand was permanently damaged.

I Used to Believe I Was a Burden

At sixteen, I was also diagnosed with learning disabilities and nocturnal seizures. In high school I got extra time on tests if I needed it. In my senior year I had to take trigonometry and the school counselors had a conference with my math teacher to tell him that because of my learning disabilities I needed extra time and be allowed a note card with formulas.

He refused. He said it would violate all of his principles as a teacher to allow me to use a note card on tests. I looked across the table at this teacher, the same one who taught my older sisters and lived a street away from me, and I felt wounded and attacked. The school administrators later told me that they could force him to give me the accommodations. I felt pressured from both sides. It wasn't like I even wanted to take Trig but the University of California school system recommended it.

I ended up dropping the class. The administrators didn't try to talk me out of it. I am sure they were just as relieved as I was. I couldn't handle the stress of making a teacher go against "his values" and I didn't understand just how wrong the whole situation was then. When I applied to college, I did not get into Berkeley and ended up going to UCLA. Who knows what would have happened if my teacher had not been a self-righteous asshole hiding behind the facade of his principles and I would have taken Trig?

Although on a daily level I may not feel oppressed as a young woman with a disability I know not to expect such treatment in every city. People like me do experience discriminatory rules and regulations frequently. Right now, my environment is fairly responsive to my needs. I have a one-handed keyboard hooked up to my computer where I type my papers for school and e-mail. I cannot use any computer labs on campus, though. I take the bus, when my leg gets tired from walking.

I may be used to being under-served. But I hadn't thought of it as a human rights issue until this ruling. I always felt like the only one with a disability (probably because I was, at my high school). I was in all the AP and Honors classes and never knew other people with disabilities.

I hated it when people wanted to help me because our society makes it shameful not to be able to be completely self-sufficient or give that appearance. Consequently, I hid my disability from most and never spoke up to receive services or help that I needed. I thought of myself as a burden. My poor parents, I thought. They pay so much for all of physical therapy. My poor teacher, I thought. He would have to violate his principles to let me use a note card on a test.

We got the message Mr. Rehnquist: People with disabilities are not human.

"The Supreme Court majority is perpetuating the ideas that people with disabilities do not have full rights against discrimination because the problem is with us, not the workplace or society."
Critics of the ADA accuse people with disabilities of being unreasonable and for asking for an unfair advantage. People with disabilities are not really different than others. We just do not fit into the standardized image of what a healthy, independent, intelligent person is. But we are as much any of these things as our non-disabled counterparts.

Many disability scholars argue that disability is a social construction, just like race. Disability is relative to a person's physical, social, and cultural environment. For example, people in the deaf community are able to communicate effectively and expressively with others who know sign language. They are not limited in any way by their disability in this environment. Patricia Hill Collins defines oppression as a systematic denial of resources that one group denies to another group of people. People with disabilities have demanded for this oppression to end. Ten years ago we thought we had the law behind us to fight the good fight.

People with disabilities want a fair chance to partake in the resources of American society and the ADA set out to do this. Fairness for us is being served differently in all the activities we take part in: school, work, and life. The Supreme Court majority is perpetuating the ideas that people with disabilities do not have full rights against discrimination because the problem is with us, not the workplace or society.

Now, state-by-state we must pass a law that allows people with disabilities
to sue the state and private employers for damages against discrimination. Mr. Rehnquist has turned the issue over to the states to decide. Right now, in California, a law is being drafted to protect Californians with disabilities and their right to sue the state for damages. However, it needs public support from the disabled and non-disabled communities to pass.

It is important that the state legislators know that disability rights are important to all people, not just those with disabilities and that we consider this a civil rights and human rights issue.We young people thought we were safe. No one I know with a disability thinks that anymore. The fight is far from over. We need to reject the message Mr. Rehnquist is sending. Now.


To learn more about the rights and lives of folks living and thriving with disabilities check out these sites

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