Walk (or Roll) A Mile in Their Shoes

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Over the last several weeks I have been using crutches or a knee-scooter; I am not allowed to bear weight on my left leg until next week.

It has been a challenge, but thank goodness, only a temporary one. I must admit that while I am proud that the USA has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I really did not understand what a difference it makes.

This is surprising since since my son, Rami Ungar, works on a US Defense Dept. Installation in the Equal Employment Opportunity office and part of his responsibilities is to ensure that workers on the base who need accommodations due to a disability receive what they need. The ADA is a big deal for those with disabilities–and for society in general.

In the short time that I have been “disabled,” I have been frustrated by the following: how difficult it is to navigate in many stores, how far disabled parking spaces are from entrances, how few parking spaces there actually are, and how ramps are sometimes so steep that it is difficult to ascend and dangerous to descend. I won’t even get into the poor shape of many sidewalks and parking lots, or the people who say that my scooter “looks like fun;” I have not been honest with them about where I’d like to put that scooter. (I must admit that I have thought about adding some modifications a la Wiley Coyote…that would be fun!)

I remember in High School doing experiential exercises where we were blindfolded or had to navigate in a wheelchair. For most of the participants in these experiments, it was fun. There was a lot of laughing. It didn’t really hit the mark in terms of showing us just how challenging a disability can be; it may be fun for a few minutes, but try doing it day after day for several weeks…or even for the rest of your life.

My point? Do not for one moment feel that those with disabilities get some kind of special treatment or perks. There is nothing fun about a disability–although it has the potential to “build character.” The accommodations put in place by the ADA do not give the differently-abled an advantage; all it does is help to level the playing field. I’m proud that the USA has this act and look forward to a day when those with disabilities will find that the barriers to their full participation in society no longer exist.

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