I’d wager that the word “segregation” causes you to think of racial segregation.  That has been a dominate use of the word segregation in the United States for more than 40 years: the Civil Rights protests during the mid-1960s were focused on “racial segregation.”  Subsequently, Federal Laws were passed making that form of segregation illegal.

However. . . . . .The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines segregation as “the separation or isolation of a race, class (emphasis added), or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means”.

It’s the separation or isolation of a class that I want to speak to here.  Specifically, the class commonly referred to as “disabled” (I prefer the word handicapped).

My mobility limitations have kept, and are keeping, me in a form of enforced restriction or separation:  I DO NOT have the same unrestricted access to the world around me that the able-bodied have!  And, in order for you to understand the restriction I’m speaking of, I ask you to consider whether I can visit you where you live:

  1. Do you have steps that must be climbed, either up or down, in order to enter your house/apartment/trailer/domicile?
  2. Are there other architectural barriers which would interfere with or prohibit my visiting you where you live?

If you answer NO to both of the above questions I’d say that you are living in a very uncommon place.  And, even if you answer NO to only one of the questions I’m likely to be prevented from accessing your residence.  Quite simply, my life experience has shown that I can visit almost none of the people I know.  In my early years, using a manual wheelchair, the few I have visited needed to make some form of accommodation for me: construction of a suitably-safe ramp or physically lifting me (with the risk of injuring themselves and/or me).  As my weakness increased, and I began using a power chair (electrically-powered wheelchair), the only viable option that seemed available to me was to visit people outside their home: on their lawn/sidewalk (weather permitting); in a restaurant, bar or otherwise publicly accessible location!  It is this form of separation/isolation/segregation that has caused me the deepest pain in my life.

Not being able to spend my money in a particular store, because of architectural barriers (a step, an unaccommodating door or aisle, lack of a curb cut); not being able to live in the house or apartment I would like to, because of architectural barriers; not being able to apply for a particular job that I was qualified for but the building or work site was not barrier-free: while the aforementioned can be frustrating/aggravating/hurtful, none of these exclusions are as painful to me as not being able to visit with family or friends in their home.

Following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, many able-bodied persons I spoke with thought that the problems disabled persons experienced in areas of housing, employment, health services, etc., would be corrected/overcome.  As I see it, the ADA was a small bandage on a large wound.

I think the original ADA, as passed, contained less than 18 lines of text.  As these things go, the Act is just a skeleton or framework.  It takes a couple of years after the Act’s passage by Congress before the Rules can be written; where the explicit language is fleshed-out in detail for all to know and follow.  And, there are exemptions and exceptions in some of the rules, to avoid being a hardship on those supposed to follow the rules: restaurants with fewer than 15 employees were not required to be accessible.  Interestingly enough, the U.S. Senate was exempt from being required to provide accessibility to those they supposedly wrote the ADA to protect.  My Government at work to help me…… NOT!

During my entire 30 years and 1 month of employment with the University of Delaware I was the only full-time employee, that I know of, permanently confined to a wheelchair: no one in the Administration was ever able to refute my claim.  There were wheelchair users in the student-body, as well as a broad diversity of other physical/learning/emotional disabilities.  But, high-ranking officials at the U of D reminded me several times that the University would only do the minimum required by law when constructing or modifying buildings/classrooms: meaning, many doors would NOT be wheelchair-accessible if only 1 would satisfy the law!

Until standards of design and construction are put into practice that do not restrict or isolate the “mobility-handicapped”, due to architectural barriers (let alone the many other ways people with physical challenges are still segregated); until we are given barrier-free access to a much larger piece of the American Pie, I have not witnessed the integration I long for!


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