Reader Says Editorial on Stein Case Was Wrong About Disabilities Act


December 05, 1993

Your editorial, "Making the Disabilities Act Work" (Nov. 24), was both misguided and misinformed.

I am not referring to the specifics of the incident or the subsequent complaint filed by Roberta Stein or her relatives. What I object to is the editorial's stance that persons with disabilities should call "an unfamiliar restaurant in advance to alert the owner about her special need" just as "any parent who wanted to know if the place had high chairs" might do.

It is quite clear that such advance notice is not required under ADA, as the editorial correctly notes. However, The Sun's position that individuals with disabilities "forewarn" the restaurateur directly contradicts the point of ADA and demeans disabled persons who have the same rights as non-disabled persons to use public accommodations without making "special arrangements." To expect disabled persons to acquiesce to "differential treatment" is appalling. Then, to equate accessibility which is required under the law) with children's high chairs further trivializes the significance of ADA and, by association, infantilizes persons with disabilities.

I also dispute the contention that restaurateurs are justifiably ignorant of the law.

* Shortly after passage of ADA, the Maryland Restaurant Association, in conjunction with the Governor's Office on Persons with Disabilities, held numerous seminars on ADA throughout the state, inviting non-members as well. Both agencies have a plethora of information for interested parties.

* The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce also provides advice, even information on tax credits for compliance with ADA.

* The Carroll County Department of Permits and Regulations provides technical information and even site-visits to assist businesses with compliance. Dick Owing and Mike Maring are extremely competent and knowledgeable about ADA. (Carroll County is most fortunate to have these experts.)

* A federal government hot line (1-800-949-4232) provides free technical assistance to businesses.

* There is a common sense, user-friendly, inexpensive (about $15) book by disability rights activists: "People with Disabilities Explain It All For You: Your Guide to the Public Accommodations Requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act," available in the Carroll County library system.

The bottom line is discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of disability has been in violation of Maryland state law (Article 49B) since the late 1970s. In essence, Maryland already has had a mini-ADA for nearly 15 years.

I suspect the most outrageous assertion in your editorial is that "it's left to the handicapped community to help make the public more aware and accepting of (ADA)."

First, that is insulting to all activists who have been working for more than two decades on ADA issues.

Second, I hope that The Sun would not expect other minorities to educate ad nauseam those who offer specious claims of ignorance about civil rights.

Third, persons with disabilities have as much claim to enjoy their lives without sacrificing all of their time and energy to "educate" others.

And fourth, if it is not yet obvious, ADA is "insurance" for every citizen: I challenge nondisabled persons to educate themselves about the civil rights of persons with disabilities, for this is one minority that everyone can join.

Marilyn J. Phillips


The writer is an associate professor of English and language studies and a researcher in disability studies on leave from Morgan State University.

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