Who’s Your Neighbor?

This week America celebrates the life of its 41st president.

George H. W. Bush lived a remarkable life marked by devotion to service. Among 41’s considerable accomplishments, I’m personally grateful for his support of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Bush’s 1989 signing of the ADA marked a major milestone in civil rights legislation. Like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in ’64 and ’65, the ADA was controversial. Supporting it required political courage.

I’m especially conscious of Bush’s legacy because recently, for the first time in my 67 blessed years, I experienced intentional discrimination.

I sought the services of a specialized local business* and was told I’d have to go elsewhere (multiple trips to Denver). In direct violation of the ADA, they refused to accommodate my disability in their less-than-2-year-old facility. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

I’ve been pushing a wheelchair for 31 years, and honestly never really got past feeling a bit like the outsider, the curiosity, the one who doesn’t quite fit in. So I don’t have words to communicate the unexpected shock of being told, directly, YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE. Tough to describe the sense of being somehow less worthy, of being an obstacle…like I said, words escape me.

Wasn’t a single encounter, either. We pushed back gently, pointed out that their response was unnecessarily harsh and restrictive (and illegal). We offered simple, inexpensive workarounds and received a polite shrug. “Sorry. You don’t belong here.”

Next step – hire an attorney and file a complaint. It’s the American Way, right? Except, I was already humiliated…didn’t need a legal process to make it worse. And, being right and winning wasn’t the point.

I’m disheartened by this business’s blatant discrimination and ongoing refusal to comply with the law. Despite their intransigence, we managed a solution and found a way to address the issue that initially brought me to them. However, my experience offers a reminder.

Grand thoughts, however kind and well-meaning, are worthless without active empathy. Civil rights laws are simply ink spots on paper – and discrimination flourishes – when hearts remain hardened to the experience of those who walk (or roll!) a different path.

When we narrow our definition of *neighbor* to “who’s convenient” or “who looks like me,” Love Your Neighbor becomes a simplistic Sunday platitude.

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*I purposely blurred details of this encounter. I’m not interested in exposing the business…not the point.

1 thought on “Who’s Your Neighbor?

  1. Phil Smith - December 4, 2018

    I heard a man, who also rolls, talk about ADA this morning on the radio. He said businesses fall into three camps, (1) those who fully comply with ADA, (2) those that say they do but don’t and (3) those that make no pretense of compliance . He is amazed how few fall into the first group, and how many fall into the last two.

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