Disabled Should Play Hand Dealt, Not Demand New Rules

By Marianne M. Jennings
February 22, 2001

Judging from the numbers and types of Americans with Disabilities (ADA) cases, we are all helpless souls. There's a disability born every minute. Oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) is psychological mumbo jumbo for brats. Attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) finds a goodly portion of our youths on prescription drugs even as DARE programs lecture them about drugs not solving problems.

Depression belligerence disorder (i.e., no taming of the shrew) was uncovered by Tina Bennett, a former obnoxious and sloppy Unisys employee. In response to her reprimanding supervisor, she wrote notes, one of which read, "Do me a personal favor and knock it off? It makes me feel like a slave." She convinced a Federal court that her poor performance deserved ADA accommodation for belligerence disorder, not termination.

Beyond these invisible disabilities are those the EEOC litigates to force square pegs into round holes. While it is just plain wrong to deny otherwise qualified disabled folks jobs because of their disabilities, it is equally wrong to change the nature and demands of a job for their desires. Golfer Casey Martin's ADA case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court because the Professional Golfers Association won't allow golf carts during play. The PGA believes those who play sports ought to be able to walk.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court bounced two ditzes, Karen Sutton and Kimberly Hinton, suing United Airlines for refusing them pilot positions because their vision could not be corrected to the 20/100 FAA standard. Our beloved court drew a line at Mrs. Magoo in the cockpit. But Ryder Systems lost a case brought by a driver it removed for his epileptic seizures. Professor Chai Feldblum, ACLU lawyer and a drafter of the ADA responded to safety concerns about wheeling epileptics, "We can't live in a risk-free world." Now if he could just convince his brethren of the personal injury bar who seek punitive damages at the drop of a hat, or anything else for that matter.

ADA litigation for public accommodation is equally nutty, as it were. Franklin Johnson won his suit against the Spoetzel Brewery for its refusal to let him take the brewery tour with his seeing eye dog, health departments being snippy about such things. What, pray tell, does a blind person see in a beer factory?

The recent case of Mark Breimhorst is ADA at its worst. Educational Testing Service settled its suit with Breimhorst by agreeing to discontinue its practice of flagging GRE and GMAT exam takers who had time requirements waived for claimed disabilities (nine out of 10 ETS disabilities are ADD or learning disability). Breimhorst says flagging to alert admissions officers violated ADA by stigmatizing him. A disability rights advocate said, "One easy way to end the whole problem would be to give everyone more time on the test, like 4 1/2 hours instead of three, or to remove enough questions so that reading speed is no longer an issue." Or, just give 'em the answers.

The underlying assumption in the Breimhorst case and the ADA is that there are no options for those who are slow of wit or physically impaired. The ADA reeks of aristocratic airs that have spawned class warfare via courts. Touted as a magnanimous gift to the less fortunate, the ADA sends the misguided message that we all can be whatever our hearts desire, regardless of ability or merit.

Why do we lie so? When someone can't sit still or finds reading a challenge, forcing them into university study sets them up for belligerent depression. Worse, it deprives them of the right to explore why they were given the challenge of preclusion.

Nancy Reagan, facing down Tom-call-'em-early-and-often-Brokaw on Reagan's 90th birthday, answered, in response to his inane question about whether it was difficult caring for an Alzheimer's patient, "It's hard, physically, emotionally and every way. But, you play the hand you're dealt."

Sometimes you're not even dealt a hand, as Miss Iowa, Theresa Uchytil, knows, but you play as if you were. In addition to being in the Miss America pageant, the one-handed Uchytil is a baton twirler and a program manager for Gateway.

The ADA deprives gifted souls of the self-exploration that comes from admitting you're not a golfer or university material. If there were not such snobbishness among ADA advocates they might realize that not being university material is often a blessing. The craftsman who has been working in our home drives a new Lexus, even without the Bush tax cut. It's a better car than I will ever own. More power to him and his lathe. Skill at such a young age deserves nothing less. Brilliance in wood, not school, is his gift.

The ADA doesn't create a level playing field. It has built ramps onto it and demanded linebackers in wheelchairs. The eyes you are dealt might mean you can't be a pilot or get free brewskies at the factory tour. Playing the hand you are dealt means not asking that the bar be lowered, but compensating and overcoming. The rest of us mortals will watch in awe as those challenged so greatly shame us with their ability. It beats being pummeled with their disability.

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