I am disabled. I have a condition that causes widespread chronic pain, limits my joint function, and causes me to fatigue easily. Some days I feel better than others. Most days I use a crutch to help me walk. For a few, very bad days, I struggle just to move from my bed. But I love to learn, and I have been thrilled to attend a well regarded public university in Huntsville, Alabama. I love my university, and I am passionate about my program of study.
However, my attendance has been spotty this semester. The building that houses my favorite class has a single, ancient elevator. During the second week of the semester, the fire department sealed this elevator off, saying that it required substantial maintenance. Some days I can push myself up that long flight of stairs instead. Some days I can’t. I find myself wondering about other students and staff who may depend on that elevator.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to remind a large school of their legal obligations. And I shouldn’t have to listen to excuses about budgets and watch as blame is bounced from department to department, waiting for a concrete solution. I shouldn’t have to, but I do. I juggle administration meetings with class time, I write another letter, and I wait.
Meanwhile, the caution tape is still up. Every day I weigh whether or not I can physically make it to a class I desperately want to attend, taught by a professor I love. I shouldn’t have to quietly bear the shame and embarrassment of explaining my absence to her, even as I do my best to keep up with the work. I shouldn’t feel the guilt that I do when she looks at me with sympathy.
I shouldn’t have to, but I do.
The thing is, my life is a best case scenario, living with a disability. Because hey, mostly the mobility aids and the medication do their job. Mostly, I can move through the world with minor inconvenience. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I am just invisible to the world.
There are folks like me with disabilities, who don’t always live the best case scenario, and who spend a lot more time being invisible to the world. We depend on legislation like the Americans With Disabilities Act to make public life accessible to us, so that we can lead rich lives and participate in the world around us. Accommodations make it possible to work, attend school, fulfill our civic duty, and be full-fledged members of society.
The US House of Representatives just passed a bill, HR 620, that seeks to place an even bigger burden on us to receive the accommodations to which we have legal rights. Under the mechanism of this bill, I likely would never get the elevator repairs needed in time for me to attend that class. The school would have the right to delay such repair for weeks or months, even if I file a complaint with the Department of Justice. This is just one small example of the terrible consequences for people like me.
We can still stop this bill. Senator Doug Jones, Senator Richard Shelby, we can stop this legislation. I urge everyone to contact your Senators and demand that they vote NO on the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.
I urge everyone reading to see me. To see us. Please, see us. Help us be seen.