Paternalism Is An Obstacle Disabled Shouldn't Have To Face

September 29, 1991|By Marilynn J. Phillips Guest columnist

Although it is not worth my time to respond to Richard L. Anderson'sname-calling, verbal abuse and implicit threats ("We expect Phillipsto show up"), his attacks on the civil rights of individuals with disabilities must be addressed.

I should note that I have never met Anderson and have no knowledge of his individual or architectural credibility. However, his column (The Carroll County Sun, Sept. 15) not only reveals a paternalistic attitude toward persons with disabilities, but also contains inaccuracies as well as confusion about federal and

state laws.

Most importantly, Anderson fails to distinguish between making all existing buildings accessible and holding public activities at accessible sites. As a result, he often mixes apples with oranges.

To clarify, prior to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Maryland Building Code required only that new or renovated buildings comply with accessibility regulations.

However, federal law also required that all agencies or programs receiving federal funds must be located in accessible buildings -- covering many existing buildings excluded by the building code. For example, because it receives federal and state funds, Western Maryland College must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Additionally, as a result of the passage of ADA, it is now federal law that all public accommodations be made accessible.

In a guest column (The Carroll County Sun July 21), I responded to public concerns about ADA compliance.

In addition to suggesting where businesses could obtain free technical advice, I indicated "my impression that most Carroll County businesses (could) easily and inexpensively comply with ADA requirements."

Anderson was highly critical of that column.

His rambling examples of difficulties and his often specious arguments for non-compliance quite simply "begged the question."

Contrary to the impression given by Anderson, although ADA does mandate the removal of architectural barriers, it does not ignore justifiable and verifiable economic and structural "realities," provided for under its "undue hardship" clause.

However, I continue to maintain that the advantages of making a business barrier-free far outweighany disadvantages, particularly given the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, which permits a tax credit for eligible accessibility expenditures.

Even President George Bush, at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, cajoled Americans to "remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted."

Bush concluded his speech with a forceful challenge: "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."

Also, Anderson, a retired architect, seems to misunderstand the meaning and purpose of handicapped accessibility.

What thelay person calls "handicapped access" is based on theories of ergonomics (how the physiology operates in an environment) and barrier-freedesign -- both of which seek to optimize the safety and usability ofthe built environment by individuals with diverse physiologies.

(Other common applications of such theories include a multitude of safety and comfort innovations in new automobile designs, the concept ofthe "great room" in modern houses, the development of cooking centers and islands in kitchens).

Barrier-free architecture "expands" the built environment to be usable by persons (primarily those with mobility disabilities) who have previously been "excluded" from accessing that environment.

Anderson's arguments against removing architectural barriers ("not every handicap is even known about until someonewho has it brings it to public attention" and everyone must experience "inconveniences") are misleading and misinformed.

Apparently, the real cause of Anderson's wrath is the fact that the Carroll CountyArts Council is not permitted to violate federal and state laws. Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, recipients of federalfunds are prohibited from discriminating against persons with disabilities.

The National Endowment for the Arts, which funds the Maryland State Arts Council and subrecipients (such as the Carroll County Arts Council), has mandated that art events must be held in accessible sites.

Indeed, even the Maryland State Arts Council clearly states, in its application form, that all recipients of MSAC funds must abide by Section 504.

This includes the Carroll COunty Arts Council, which last year received over $30,000 from MSAC.

Anderson objects to the fact that I filed a complaint with the NEA citing the Maryland State Arts Council and its sub recipients for failing to enforce 504. As a result of its eight-month investigation, NEA concluded that MSAC was, in fact, in violation of 504 and suspended federal funds ($565,000) until such time that MSAC complied with the law.

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