Monday, May 27, 2013

Disability News

picture of a newspaper
Judge: Hollister Clothing Unfriendly to Disabled
Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press - May 22, 2013

The Justice Department rarely pursues Americans with Disabilities Act violations on accessibility, so its encouraging to read this. It's particularly sweet for two other reasons:

1. As soon as I saw the name "Hollister" I immediately knew what this was about, since I've been bothered by Hollister's layout at my local mall for years. As is often the case, the article doesn't explain well exactly what the problem is, but basically Hollister's official franchise "look" includes installing two steps up at the front entrance. That's right, in an indoor shopping mall … where no-step entry is a universal accessibility plus for people with disabilities … Hollister goes out of its way to custom install steps to get in. They think it looks distinctive or vintage or something.

2. Mind you, they do also include a more accessible entrance to the side, so technically they are wheelchair accessible, at least enough to get inside. However, their interiors are typically very crowded, and besides that, the accessible entrance isn't readily visible, and it just seems ridiculous to design a store that looks inaccessible, even if it isn't. "Unfriendly" is exactly the right term. It's like a store posting a "Whites Only" sign, and then another sign below it that says, "Just Kidding!"

I like to think that the Justice Department took this case because it just plain pissed them off.

Kevin Dolak, ABC News - May 23, 2013

It looks like there was a pretty quick, pretty good outcome to this story from a couple weeks ago. The (now) happy couple will apparently be moving into a new "home of their own". I'm not sure what that means, though. Is it a house or apartment just for them, or will there be other unrelated residents? In other words, is it going to be "their home", or another type of "group home?" The article does provide a bit of an explanation of why the agency had a problem with the couple living together. Apparently, because both of them need help with cooking, cleaning, and other daily living tasks, then they can't take care of each other, and are therefore somehow not able to live together as a married couple. But that's true of all residents of a group home. They live together under the same roof, and all of them need help with daily living tasks … that is why they are there, supposedly. The only difference here is that the couple wants to share a bed, and perhaps have some slight changes of routine and privacy boundaries to underscore that they are a family unit, not just housemates. None of which prevents both of them receiving help from personal care staff.

In some ways the agency's original position reminds me of people who object to gay marriage. Biblical interpretation aside, its partly about differences in how people think of marriage. Is it simply cohabitation with a legal overlay? Is it a holy institution with mainly spiritual components? Is it about love between two people? Is it about recognition and accommodation by the rest of society?

I hope to find out that the Forzianos really do have their own place … their own household where they have the help and support they need, but where they direct the staff, rather than the staff directing them.

Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times - May 26, 2013

This is a good example of an issue that has massive consequences for people with disabilities ... with implications for life, death, and basic freedom … but is completely unknown outside of the disability community. It threatens to bring to a head a long-simmering conflict of interests and priorities for two groups that very much need each other, and are normally natural allies … people with disabilities who use home care to maintain their independence, and the home care workers who earn wages to serve their needs. I'm glad the news story highlighted a man who initially supported unionizing of home care workers, even though he's now rightly concerned about what might happen as a result.

This is also an important example of how a single policy decision … and one that seems completely fair and right … can have devastating consequences for people who don't at all deserve it.