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 by Jon Burras
Held Hostage by the Disabled
     My life suddenly changed on a recent shopping trip to Costco. I had always thought of myself as a compassionate person who had a fair amount of insight and understanding. Those observations suddenly changed when I found myself at the check out counter. An older gentleman was riding in a motorized cart that the store had provided. This elderly senior citizen had bumped into store merchandise, was flustered and kept backing up into customers behind him. He was unable to unload his own groceries and the store clerk just sat there and watched, bewildered at what to do.
     Fellow customers were at odds at how to respond to this out-of-control errant driver. If they said something they might look like uncompassionate people so most just rolled their eyes and got as far out of the way as possible. I kept wondering what would happen if this driver hits me or someone else. Who is responsible—the store or the man himself. And if it is the driver himself who is responsible then what insurance company do we call—his homeowners insurance, life insurance, renters insurance or car insurance. Might he have to pay for a separate policy just to drive this cart? In a land of over-litigious behavior (too many laws suits and too many contracts we need to sign) why are disabled people let off the hook for the potential damage that they might cause in a store?
     While this was not the first time I have witnessed such an instance like this I began to wonder at how we as a society have come to this place. Not just in supermarkets but our restaurants, churches, yoga studios, gyms and airlines have been made a mockery of by disabled folks and their animals and the excessive rules that support them. I began to wonder as to what might be happening. I came to the conclusion that we are all being held hostage by the disabled.
     Laws for the disabled began as a good-intentioned way of providing some sort of equality and protections for those who had physical or mental challenges in life. These laws came to us either through organizations like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Organization, part of the United States Department of Labor) or through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, signed into law in 1990). By all accounts the laws to equalize the playing field for disabled people have helped some people to have a higher quality of life.
     Herein lies the problem. Society, politicians and the disabled often feel that the playing field needs to be equalized for those who are disadvantaged. Special treatment needs to be given to those who are less fortunate. The reality is that this is a very discriminating policy that creates more problems than it solves. It is unfair, unclear, ambiguous and costly.
     For instance, ten percent of the population is left-handed. The government does not protect "lefties" and does not create an equal playing field here. Kitchen gadgets, scissors, gardening tools and many more common items cannot be used by left-handed people in a predominant right-handed culture. Where are the protections?
     Tall people are also discriminated against regularly in all aspects of culture. A tall person will hit his head on the top of the airline interior and other items like televisions, cabinets and doorways. Why are airlines allowed to have short ceilings and doorways that do not accommodate taller people? In addition, tall people cannot fit into the normal airline seat because their legs will not fit. Do you see the government stepping in to protect their rights?
     Tall people are also discriminated against in many other areas of life including when purchasing a car, lounge chair, bed, bath tub or office chair. Tall people are forced to scrunch down to view a traffic light when driving and are forced to bend their knees when visiting an ATM machine. In addition, most showers are so short in the average hotel room that a tall person will be sprayed in the navel with a stream of water and will need to get on his knees if he wishes to get his hair wet.
     Short people are also discriminated against in society and are offered no protections by the government. Store shelves are too high for a short person to reach. Short people are often over-looked and might not get a job or a promotion compared to a taller person. Short people have difficulty seeing the movie in a movie theater.
     Fat people are also discriminated against in society and offered few protections by the government. For instance, airline passenger seats continue to shrink in size and often cannot fit heavier people. Government agencies are not scrambling to force airlines to increase their seat size and leg length. Bathrooms and other public spaces are shrinking and oversized people are feeling more and more squeezed. Public arenas like basketball games or tennis matches do not provide oversized seating.
     The disabled seem to have a unique carte blanche way of taking over society that is not offered to others. The disabled are a "special interest group" that have been given extreme benefits that are not offered to other groups. The disabled are one of the few groups that have ultimate protections and are taken care of better than most other groups, including veterans and teachers. Many of the disabled have absolute right to utilize the many laws and privileges granted to them. Unfortunately, many more have come to abuse these policies and practices. There are so many loop holes and grey areas that the disabled laws are easy to take advantage of.
     Here in lies the many problems with these laws. When the ADA was signed into law no one could have thought that there would be so many problems with it. The laws were written in a way that allowed them to be easily abused. Law makers were so short-sighted that they did not foresee the many problems that their disabled laws would create.
     The ADA and other OSHA laws have created a tremendous financial hardship for businesses, from large theme parks to the small independent business. Large businesses must spend millions of dollars of their own money putting in special ramps, handrails and wheel chair lifts. Large companies might have the funds for this; smaller ones do not. A friend of mine opened up a hiking/yoga spa where the quests came for a week and hiked at least 10 miles a day in the local mountains. Every guest must be able-bodied and be able to hike long distances. My friend was ordered by the government to install a $100,000 wheel chair lift, even though there will never, ever be a person in a wheel chair that will set foot on his property. It appears that the government officials who implement disability laws have their heads in places where the sun never shines. It is the law—deal with it.
     Every swimming pool at a public space, hotel, motel, school, gym, health club or other institution is now mandated to have a handicapped lift installed at their own expense. These lifts are almost never, if ever used. (I have never seen anyone use one of these chair lifts in my lifetime). Costing between $8,000 and $10,000 each, they sit covered with a tarp and in the way of regular pool activities like children playing or sporting events. Even if one did uncover the tarp it would take a whole lot of effort to lower yourself into the pool. There is a greater liability for insurance companies as many children have been found to be playing on the devices and falling off, injuring themselves.
     Companies that offer shuttle services like from their hotel to the airport have been forced to spend millions of dollars purchasing handicapped accessible buses and transportation systems with special lifts. Bus companies in every city have had to do the same. Cities have been forced to construct special side walks with a ramp and yellow bumpy plate to let blind people and those in wheel chairs know that they are entering the street. Cities, businesses and private individuals have incurred huge sums of financial hardship due to the ADA.
     What qualifies as a disability? The Americans with Disabilities Act has turned nearly everything into a disability. Anxiety is now the new hot button topic. As society has become more and more medicalized the medical institutions have had a free range at classification of what is a disease. Anxiety is no more a disease than is farting yet medicine has labeled it as a disease where a special service dog can now be used. Being a standing member of AARP (American Association of Retired People) now qualifies you as being disabled and many people take advantage of the fact that they are "old."
     Dogs and cats are now found routinely on airlines, in gyms and health clubs as the ADA has allowed people with anxiety to bring their pets with them wherever they go. Nearly one in three Americans is either afraid of flying or anxious of flying. Most of them take a Xanax, have a glass of wine or find another way to distract themselves. The ADA has turned anxiety or fear of flying into a mental disorder where an emotional support pet is now warranted. Most people I have seen with their support animals in gyms or yoga studios are very able bodied with normal vision. Anxiety about being away from home now qualifies as a mental disorder causing someone to be disabled and requiring a support animal.
     What happens to the person who has a dog or cat allergy on an airplane? These people are asked to relocate or are removed from the airplane and rebooked on the next flight. A person with an anxiety to animals will be ignored as the passenger with the support animal will always come first. Animals on airplanes have created a great safety liability for other passengers. Imagine if you have to evacuate an airplane quickly in an emergency. How can the passengers quickly get out of a burning airplane when they have to step over three German Sheperds and a service pig? We are often told to leave our luggage in an emergency; will people be willing to leave their animals or risk burning to death in an airplane fire?
     Notice how many able-bodied people have handicapped parking passes. It is rare that I see someone who actually needs a handicapped parking pass. Most are people who have abused the system and have gone to a doctor complaining about a sore knee or a stiff back. The doctor then signs off on their pass. These people get in and out of their cars with seemingly no trouble and walk through a store just like the rest of us. While the system was designed to benefit a very few people who actually need special up front parking, the system has become severely abused (just like most government programs like Welfare and Medicare).
     We live in an over-protective era where we don't let kids climb trees and we forbid them from walking to school by themselves. Instead we wish to bubble wrap our culture so nobody gets hurt. This is exactly what we have done for the handicapped. While no other country does this we have attempted to make every street corner and business bubble wrapped for the handicapped so that no harm will ever come to them. We have institutionalized "extreme caution" as a national past time. We see over and over the huge sources of money spent to make sure handicapped people will never have to slip or fall, or will have to go out of their way or encounter a challenge.
     We let passengers with animals board airplanes first and let them encroach on other passenger's leg space routinely. Somehow someone who calls himself "handicapped" is not allowed to be scolded or reprimanded for their public behavior. A wheel chair, handicapped parking pass or a support animal is their shield of defense from the scrutiny of society. Somehow victims have come to win out and normal people are afraid to confront those who are abusing the system. Meanwhile "ambulance chasing lawyers" seek out businesses that have not fully complied with the laws of the ADA (like not putting in a lift in a pool at a small hotel) and filing lawsuits to gain profit.
     Animals in restaurants and on airplanes have many unintended consequences. For instance, animals shed hair and many people are allergic to animal hair, especially cat hair. Contact with cat hair could result in anaphylactic shock for those with severe cat allergies, often resulting in death. There are several diseases that a passenger can catch from a dog like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Giardia, Rabies, Toxocariasis, Brucelliosis and Ringworm. Even after the passengers have left the plane the disease might persist as airplane seats are not thoroughly cleaned between flights.
     What is most ridiculous is that people coming into businesses or on airlines with their animals are not required to show any proof that they have a service animal with a special skill. No vest or documentation is required. Employees of businesses are not allowed to ask if this is a service animal or emotional support animal. The law says so. This poorly written law allows for much abuse as animal lovers will routinely bring their dogs and cats into restaurants and super markets and the employees are forbidden from asking if this is a service animal. Five common reasons that people have service dogs are the following: 1.Guide dog for the blind, 2. Pulling a wheel chair, 3. Alerting the deaf, 4. Alerting those with seizures, 5. Calming a person with anxiety. It seems that anyone can use a service dog for any occasion because paperwork and a marked vest on the animal are not required.
     We have seen over and over again how pet owners have trampled over health laws by bringing their animals into restaurants and stores. Somehow the powers that be believe that a service animal is spotlessly clean and does not shed hair or carry germs. Many have witnessed animals licking at food items in stores or in the rare case where an animal has relieved itself in an airplane aisle or in a supermarket. A service animal can still carry fleas and ticks but somehow the ADA has overlooked this. A delayed flight where passengers are told to stay in their seats and not get up to use the restroom is horrendous. Try telling four service dogs, a miniature horse and an emotional support duck that they must hold it too as the flight has been delayed.
     Even ride share drivers and taxi drivers are being harmed by the overzealous interpretation of disabled laws. These drivers are forced to pick up passengers with their animals whether they like it or not. They are not paid extra for this service and must spend their own money cleaning out the car after the animal has left. Refusal to pick up passengers with service animals is against the law and the driver might be fired.
     Don't be surprised that on your next airline flight you find a porcupine or a bull frog seated next to you. God forbid you have any animal allergies because if you complain the airline personnel will take you off the flight and book you on the next available flight. We would not want to disturb the disabled with their emotional support animals because all the rights have been flung in their direction.
     While perhaps well-intentioned, laws to protect the disabled have gone way too far in the wrong direction. The laws on the books are unreasonable and discriminate against many others in society. These laws are also so poorly written that they are easily taken advantage of leaving the rest of society paralyzed by bad behavior. It is time to reevaluate laws to protect the disabled and to increase the punishments for those who have chosen to manipulate the system in their favor. While some people are benefitting from disabled laws, many more are taking advantage of the system and the rest of society is paying a heavy burden for such laws.
     Solutions
     1. The government must provide all the funds for disabled architecture and structure. Ramps, lifts, handrails and other special features must all be paid for by government funds and not by a business, large or small.
     2. Only seeing eye dogs to be allowed on airplanes. No emotional support animals like cats, dogs, spiders, snakes, miniature horses, ducks or peacocks on airplanes. Dogs are to be kept either in cargo areas or special kennels in the back of the plane. Animals are not allowed out of their cage and their size is limited.
     3. It should be very difficult to get the paperwork for an support animal. Currently, it is too easy to go to a doctor and for $250 you can get the paperwork needed to have your animal labeled as an emotional support animal. A support animal must wear an authorized vest and each owner must carry with them at all times a wallet card indicting that they have a support animal and what special skill it has. If someone asks them to produce these documents they must do so. Business owners are allowed to ask if this animal is a service animal and what skill it has. An animal disturbing another patron (including a patron who claims to have allergies) can be removed without question.
     4. There must be validation if stores choose to provide a motorized shopping cart for the handicapped. Handicapped people must take a course on how to operate these scooters, must provide validation and a medical note on why they would need such a device. They must provide proof that their insurance company is covering any costs associated with any damages. You will not be able to get in a cart because you do not want to walk around the store.
     5. Handicapped parking stickers must be obtained from a special doctor and not be easy to get. A sore back or bruised toe should not get you a parking pass. Being a senior citizen does not qualify you for a pass either. These parking passes for handicapped spots in parking lots need to be reserved for those who truly need them. The passes are only valid for one year and before you are issued a pass you must undergo a written and road driving test to see if you are capable of driving. These passes are renewed on a yearly basis if you are still disabled and still able to pass a driving test. We let people who claim to be disabled and cannot walk drive around a store in a motorized cart then let them get in their car and drive at high speeds back to their homes.
     6. The ADA and OSHA laws must be rewritten by legislators. As of now, there are so many grey areas in the laws that are being taken advantage of. We need to clarify the laws so that the people who really need help can get it and the others who have taken advantage of the law will be kept out. The term "disabled" must be clearly identified. As of now this is a catch all phrase that most people can easily fit into. Harm to businesses and others in society must stop as the trend must now be reversed.