e d g e
- education for disability and gender equity
DID THE GOVERNMENT NEED TO ENACT THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
In many areas of life, people with disabilities experience various forms of discrimination. These experiences of discrimination come from two distinct obstacles: prejudice, and barriers. You probably know what prejudice is, at least when it affects people of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and so on. For example, some people hold mistaken and hateful beliefs about Jews, or about African-Americans. Some boys think that girls are dumb when it comes to math. These are all examples of prejudice, which can lead to discrimination.
Prejudice can sometimes be overcome through education, or through people getting to know each other as individuals rather than as stereotypes. For example, in an all-white high school, many students might believe that black people are dangerous or weird; but when those same students go to an integrated high school, they quickly learn that in every racial group there are all kinds of people -- some friendly, some standoffish, some mean, and everything in between.
In some cases, nothing can be done to change a person's attitude. However, a law can impose consequences for specific behaviors based on negative attitudes. The U.S. government has created a number of laws to do just that. The government cannot make a prejudiced white person like or respect African-Americans; but if that person makes a hiring decision based on race, or refuses to let black people dine in a restaurant, then there will be a penalty -- usually a lawsuit, either by individuals or by the government.
Just like other minorities, disabled people are sometimes the targets of prejudice and negative attitudes. (For more information on where these kinds of attitudes come from, check out the Culture curriculum.) Some employers do not want to hire a blind person because they themselves are uncomfortable with blindness. Some shop owners try to keep wheelchair users out of their stores because they fear their merchandise will be damaged by reckless driving! These are a few examples of prejudice.
Can you think of some more examples of prejudice against disabled people?
The situation is even more difficult for disabled people who are members of ethnic minority groups. They may have to face two or more kinds of prejudice. Studies show that people with disabilities from culturally diverse backgrounds experience twice the discrimination experienced by non-disabled people in the minority community.
In addition to blatant prejudices like those, people with disabilities are often excluded by physical barriers, or by policies which create barriers. A "barrier" is an obstacle of some kind which keeps a disabled person out. For customers with disabilities, examples of barriers include entrance doors with steps, flights of stairs with no elevator, restaurant menus available in print but not in Braille. For employees with disabilities, barriers can include office spaces overcrowded with furniture, telephones without TTYs for deaf workers, and unfair rules such as the requirement that a worker must have a driver's license even though driving is not part of the job.
These barriers are usually not created out of hatred for disabled people, but they do have the effect of discriminating against disabled people. For example, a requirement that a worker have a driver's license would make it impossible for a blind person to be hired for that particular job. Even though the rule was not made for the purpose of discriminating against blind people, it does discriminate.
There are other barriers to people with disabilities throughout society. These include inaccessible voting machines, subway systems, buses, and sidewalks. These barriers mostly result from old, outdated structures, equipment, and policies. They result in discrimination against people with disabilities.