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10th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The history of disability rights mirrors the history of the country. Each World War sparked changes in disability policy and changes in medical technology as veterans without limbs and with other disabilities returned home. From the almost forgotten disability activism of the 1930s to the independent living movement of the 1970s to the call for disability pride of the 1990s, the disability rights movement mirrored other civil rights struggles. It took place in the streets and in the courts, as activists fought for change in the schools, the workplace and in the legal system. [includes rush transcript]

Today, they continue to fight for effective access to the necessities of everyday life — to telephones, buses, planes, public buildings, restaurants and toilets. The story of this movement is a complex story of shifts in consciousness and shifts in policy. Today we are joined by a panel of disabled activists and disability advocates.

Guests:

  • Frieda Zames, co-author of The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation.
  • Doris Zames Fleischer, co-author of The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation.
  • Arlene Mayerson, Directing Attorney of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).
  • Mike Landwehr, Program Director at KXCI-FM in Tucson, Arizona. He was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since the age of twelve.
  • Andy Imparato, Executive Director of American Association of People with Disabilities.
  • Paul Miller, a Clinton appointee to the EEOC, charged with implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We move on with the rest of the program, which we will be devoting to this tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ten years ago, the ADA was signed. Many say the disability rights movement is different from the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, in that it is almost invisible in this country, except to those, of course, who are actively participating in it.

The history of disability rights mirrors the history of the country. Both World Wars sparked changes in disability policy, as many young people came home with disabilities, and changes in medical technology, as veterans without limbs and with other disabilities returned to the country. The empowerment of people with disabilities has become another chapter in the struggles over identity politics that began in the 1960s.

It’s a complex story that we look at of shifts in consciousness and shifts in policy, of changing focuses on particular disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, polio, quadriplegia, psychiatric and developmental disabilities, chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease and AIDS, and of activism and policymaking across disabilities.

And today, we’re going to go across the country to talk with people who’ve been a part of the movement for many years. We’re going to begin with Frieda Zames. She is co-author of a book that is just coming out now called The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Frieda Zames.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Thank you. Hi.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, what does today mean to you?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, this is the most important or one of the most important laws — federal laws in the whole history of disability rights. It’s not as strong as we would like — the enforcement is fairly weak — but it gives us the power to sue and to demand our rights in many areas, in state and city government, in the private sector. And it took many years to get this. Actually, there were two laws necessary. We’re the only movement where there were really two laws, one law that had to do with the federal — those agencies or institutions that receive federal funds, that was way in the ’70s; and then we needed another law to include the private entities. And so, that’s the Americans with Disabilities Act, which put it all together.

AMY GOODMAN:

Arlene Mayerson is also with us, who is the directing attorney of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. Arlene Mayerson, can you explain the legal battle and what the Americans for Disabilities Act came out of?

ARLENE MAYERSON:

Well, it came out of a twenty-year history of disability civil rights and an independent living movement, that learned its lessons from the more traditional civil rights movements of blacks and women to realize that without a law to enforce, there would never be equal opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN:

The first act was passed when?

ARLENE MAYERSON:

The first national act was passed in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act, and there was a provision in there banning discrimination by anyone who received federal financial assistance. And that law really laid the foundation for the later enactments. That law, the 1973 law, there were comprehensive regulations put out in ’77, and those regulations set forth what kinds of obligations employers would have and other public entities would have.

AMY GOODMAN:

And 1990?

ARLENE MAYERSON:

Well, from ’77 to ’90, the ’80s were filled with, number one, fighting back cutbacks in the laws from the United States Supreme Court. And in every cloud, there’s a silver lining. The silver lining was that the disability community really coalesced and learned to be a very effective lobbyist and [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN:

Arlene Mayerson, I’m going to —

ARLENE MAYERSON:

—- on the Hill. And so, from the -— really at the ’80s, there was an incremental move to increase civil rights and to fight back any cutbacks from the Supreme Court, and that all led to the development of an ADA.

AMY GOODMAN:

Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney in Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, along with Frieda Zames, the co-author of The Disability Rights Movement. We’re going to break for stations to identify themselves and fan out around the country to talk with people about what the Americans with Disabilities Act has meant to them. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers, I’m Amy Goodman. As we look today at the Americans with Disabilities Act, today is the tenth anniversary of the passage of that law. And we’re joined by a roundtable of people.

By the way, I also want to welcome WEFT to the Democracy Now! family, broadcasting out of Champaign, Illinois. They’ve just begun airing Democracy Now!

And we’re going to go down to another station that airs us, and that is KXCI-FM in Tucson, Arizona, where Mike Landwehr is standing by. He is the program director of KXCI and has long been involved with the disability rights movement.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Mike Landwehr.

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, it’s good to have you with us. The whole issue of the disability rights movement and how it got its start, particularly after World War II, can you talk about that time?

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Yes, people were returning with injuries that, beforehand, they would not have survived, and so there were a lot of new disabilities with young people who were anxious to get back to their lives, get back to going to school, getting their education, getting into the workforce, and finding a lot of barriers as they moved into that.

Out of this, I think some of the universities were setting up programs to allow people with disabilities to come in. They were very, very restrictive in who they would let in at the University of Illinois, where I went, for example. You couldn’t get in at a certain time, unless you were able to push your own wheelchair. If you needed a power chair or needed assistance, they pretty much wanted people that they could get onto their wheelchair basketball teams and so forth and present that kind of an image. So there were a lot of restrictions.

There was a lot of paternalism in the system. You had — everything that had to be approved by the university had to be approved by the rehab center, and so forth. You were kind of in a different world and pretty segregated, as well, and it was that segregation, I think, that drove people to look for ways of getting into the whole system and not just pieces of it.

And that’s when people started banding together, particularly at the University of California in Berkeley, where there was a program for severely disabled people who were living together in kind of a rehab unit, and it was these people, in particular, who got together and formed the first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California. Now there are those kinds of centers all over the country, and it gives people an opportunity, a place to communicate with each other and to form coalitions of people with all kinds of disabilities to lobby for the services and the rights that they need.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mike Landwehr, you use a wheelchair yourself. At what age did you begin to use it?

MIKE LANDWEHR:

I was born with spina bifida, which is a congenital disability, an opening in the spine, and I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was twelve years old. That was in 1956. So I’ve seen a lot of these changes.

When I was — well, when I was first disabled, which happened in the hospital, to show you how far we’ve come in just the last forty, forty-five years, when it was time for me to be released from the hospital — I walked into the hospital, I was unable to walk when I came out — the nurse picked me up out of the bed and handed me to my mother to carry off. There was no rehabilitation, there was no suggestion as to what was going to happen next with me. We, the family, had to kind of figure all of this out, including figuring out that I was going to need a wheelchair to get around in.

So, from that point, then getting into the wheelchair and finding that I couldn’t get into my neighborhood school, couldn’t get even off my block, because of the big curbs that they had in Chicago, there were barriers everywhere for me. And getting through high school, we did get to a high school that was relatively accessible in that there were no steps to get in, but they wouldn’t let me go there in Chicago. They said they had a special school for handicapped children, and that’s where they wanted to send me. These are very segregated situations where they train you primarily to be able to live in nursing homes when you grow up, and that’s where most of those people ended up living, within nursing homes.

My family moved sixty miles outside of the city of Chicago just to get me into a school that would allow me to enter. There were barriers, there were steps all over the place, the bathrooms were not accessible. They said I could go there, but I was not to expect that they were going to make any accommodations for me whatsoever. I had to depend on my schoolmates to carry me up and down stairs to classes, to get me into the building, to help me into the bathroom, all of that, and I managed to get through four years of high school that way. It was quite a struggle, but it was, I think, one of those picking yourself up by the bootstrap situations that probably it was good for me, in that I was in an integrated setting that whole time, and I wasn’t just with disabled people. That has changed a great deal with the laws that now have broken down all of those barriers.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what did the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act mean for you?

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Well, it opened up even more doors. We heard Arlene Mayerson talking about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973. Those regulations came out in 1978, and they affected federally funded programs, so schools and governments had to begin making things accessible and available and usable by people with disabilities. But it wasn’t until the ADA came around that it really opened a lot of new doors. Private enterprise had to participate in this — hotels, public accommodations, in-town movie theaters, concert venues, as well as schools and places of employment. This has made it possible for all of us to — it’s opened up doors for us to be able to work, to continue higher education, and so forth. It’s really made a huge difference.

And I think as people see the ramped curbs and the elevators, the lifts, and the signing for deaf people at concerts and other kinds of assistance, I think it’s becoming more visible in the community as a result of the ADA. And as people become more and more aware of the difficulties and the barriers that we face and the breaking down of those barriers, I think society has become more open to people with disabilities than they ever have been before. We have a long way to go here, but those first steps have been taken.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mike Landwehr is the program director of KXCI in Tucson, Arizona and a well-known disability rights activist.

Paul Miller also is on the line with us, a Clinton appointee to the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and he’s charged with implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you just heard before Arlene Mayerson, we’ve got people on cell phones, because there’s a major event taking place at the White House today. Everyone is heading over. In fact, most people are there now, where President Clinton and former President Bush are expected to be. Well, President Clinton today, and Bush will be joining him tonight at a major gala for the ADA.

Paul Miller, what can employers — what discrimination is legal, and what isn’t?

PAUL MILLER:

Well, thank you for having me on your show. It’s been a very interesting discussion thus far.

Discrimination is illegal, so no discrimination is allowed. The question is, what is discrimination? And I think it’s important to note that just as Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and gender, the ADA prohibits discrimination in exactly the same way. That is, the underlying principle of the employment section of the ADA says that employers must treat people on the job based upon their ability to do the work, rather than based upon a fear, myth or stereotype due to their disability. That’s really the very simple cornerstone of the ADA and a simple principle that the ADA mandates.

AMY GOODMAN:

What are the biggest cases of discrimination that you’ve had to deal with at the EEOC?

PAUL MILLER:

Well, the EEOC receives charges of discrimination from people with disabilities all over the country, and we see lots of stories of discrimination, people who are simply fired once they become disabled; employers who refuse to make even the simplest, reasonable accommodation, that is, to modify the workplace to enable a disabled person to work; people refusing to get promotions. Those are the kinds of discrimination that we see coming to the EEOC.

AMY GOODMAN:

I’m curious. My grandmother lives in a place. She’s 103 years old and still extremely vibrant. But sometimes it’s difficult for her to walk, and it’s a, I guess, living assisted place with a lot of older people who eat together downstairs, and they live in their own apartments upstairs. But they’re not allowed to use wheelchairs in the lobby, and people are not allowed in who would come to this place in wheelchairs. Is that illegal?

PAUL MILLER:

That’s not illegal under the employment section, so I’ll pass that over to Arlene Mayerson.

AMY GOODMAN:

Arlene Mayerson of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

ARLENE MAYERSON:

Yes, I think that it is illegal.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Clearly illegal.

AMY GOODMAN:

Even if it’s a private place?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, they have no right to do that.

ARLENE MAYERSON:

The ADA — the big difference in the ADA and its predecessor laws is that the ADA extends the nondiscrimination provisions to the private sector. That is the big difference with the ADA. That’s why it was such a landmark, because the previous law had only covered those entities that received federal financial assistance. The ADA is comprehensive.

AMY GOODMAN:

And if places say, for example, older people going into sort of group living situations, not really group living, but in independent apartments, that you can’t come into a place, you know, originally move into a place, if you are in a wheelchair. They won’t start with people who are already in wheelchairs. Is this illegal?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yes.

ARLENE MAYERSON:

I think that’s illegal. We have heard many cases about retirement homes, particularly retirement homes, actually, that have those policies that if you use a wheelchair, you can’t bring it to the dining room.

AMY GOODMAN:

Right.

ARLENE MAYERSON:

Or if you do bring it to the dining room, you have to be the last one in.

AMY GOODMAN:

Right.

ARLENE MAYERSON:

I actually think that those kinds of cases are ripe for litigation.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mm-hmm. Frieda Zames, you are vigorously shaking your head when you hear this. Frieda Zames, co-author of The Disabilities Rights Movement with her sister-in-law, From Charity to — sister.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Sister.

AMY GOODMAN:

Oh, excuse me.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

We go way back.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sister. You go way back.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

We go way back, from the beginning.

AMY GOODMAN:

That’s Doris Zames Fleischer, who wrote the book with Frieda Zames. I want to —

FRIEDA ZAMES:

She’s a writer, actually.

AMY GOODMAN:

Right. I want to talk about the two of you. Who’s older?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

I am.

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re older. How long have you been in a wheelchair?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, I did walk with crutches and braces, but I’ve had — I got polio when I was two and a half, so I’ve been disabled, as far as I’m concerned, all my life. I don’t remember anything else.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, seeing you in this wheelchair actually really warms my heart, because my dad used a similar one. Is this an Amiga?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

This is an Amiga, and it was one of the — this was actually —- this model was the first model of the Amiga. I still love it. And -—

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

May I interject, because I think this will give you a sense of who Frieda is. Frieda had polio when she was two and a half. By the way, I always — my personal statement, I say it’s the most important thing that happened in my life. It only happened two years before I was born. But let me just tell you about Frieda. Frieda used to walk with crutches and braces, and then, because she’s post-polio, which means that — well, it doesn’t mean you get sicker. I won’t go into the medical details.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

You get weaker.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

You get weaker. But, you know, you look at Frieda, she’s still plenty strong. OK, in any case, so she has to go into an Amiga. Her reaction to it was, I used to walk with crutches and braces, I had to be afraid people were going to knock me down; now I’m in an Amiga, they have to be afraid I’m going to knock them down. She said, “That expresses me much better.”

AMY GOODMAN:

So, actually, this issue of technology is very integral to the disability rights movement. I mean, I think of the women’s movement, how the dishwasher freed women up, for example.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN:

What about technology?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, we have a whole — you know, we deal with technology, and to a great extent, it really did make a big difference. I mean, it kind of works together with the movement, the technology. As the technology improves, the movement can do more, and vice versa. But there are also negative effects, so we talk about the positive and the negative effects.

AMY GOODMAN:

What are the negative effects?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, for example, something simple, like a curb cut, it’s good for the person in the wheelchair, but it’s a problem for blind people. But more —- other situations -—

AMY GOODMAN: Because for a blind person —


FRIEDA ZAMES:

Because they don’t know they’re going into the street, unless they know ahead of time. But that’s a very simple —

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

That can be dealt with.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

And that can be dealt with.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Technology.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

That can be dealt with, yeah, because we just train each other. You know, we work together. But there are more serious things, like with computers, the whole privacy issue. I mean, for example you can get to know more about what possible disabilities you may have in later life, but so may your employer find out and not hire you or somebody looking for a job.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Or you won’t get insurance, which means that — even for a disability which you may never have. For example, given the human genome, mapping the human genome, you could be susceptible, I mean, somebody who would be more likely to get that than somebody else, but you may never get it. You know what I mean? So that you may be — not be able to get insurance, and then you can’t get a job.

AMY GOODMAN:

Technology can also be very expensive. What kind of assistance —

FRIEDA ZAMES:

That’s another thing that’s —

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

People with disabilities are the single segment of society that can gain most from the electronic age, and yet only one quarter of people with disabilities own computers. One tenth ever make use of the internet. And the main reason is that — and, of course, it would be — look, a person who’s using a computer, it doesn’t matter if he got there in a wheelchair. Somebody who’s not technologically adept, if you he walk to the computer, is less able than the person in the wheelchair. But the main reason for it is that people with disabilities can’t afford the computer, can’t afford the specialized software that they require. And so, we’re, of course, limiting the people with disabilities, but we’re also making them impossible for being self-sustaining.

AMY GOODMAN:

But what about other kinds of technology, not just computers, but what helps you, for example, get around?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, I mean, for example, the scooters, the motorized wheelchair, enabled a lot more people to get around. The lifts on buses enabled us to use the — you know, to use public transportation, trains, elevators in trains. I mean, these technologies really made a big difference, although elevators were known things. They weren’t a way-out new thing. But people just didn’t conceive of people in wheelchairs moving around, going for jobs, going — you know, living like everyone else, and we were trapped.

AMY GOODMAN:

We have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, we’ll also talk about disabilities that may not be visible to the human eye. But that people have to deal with every day.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

That’s most disabled people.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Overwhelmingly.

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Our guests are Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames. They’re authors of the book The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. On the line with us, Paul Miller, Clinton appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Its tenth anniversary is today. Also, Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. Mike Landwehr with us from Tucson, Arizona, program director of KXCI-FM, a community radio station there. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Today, the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a roundtable conversation around the country about what this means.

We’re also joined on the telephone by Andy Imparato, who is the executive director of American Association of People with Disabilities. What about disabilities that are not visible to the eye, just automatically someone understands that you might have a walking impairment or that you can’t see or perhaps that you can’t hear, Andy Imparato?

ANDY IMPARATO:

Yes, I mean, I think one of the things that we’re experiencing in the disability rights movement is a backlash against the ADA. And one of the themes in the backlash is that the wrong people are benefiting from the law. And they often talk about the fact that the second most common charge filed with the EEOC by disability type is people with mental impairments, particularly psychiatric disabilities. And there’s this feeling that those disabilities somehow aren’t as legitimate as somebody who’s in a wheelchair or somebody who’s blind or somebody who’s deaf.

I have a psychiatric disability. I actually used to work for Commissioner Miller at the EEOC. And the bottom line is that the fears, myths and stereotypes that produce discrimination are sometimes even more powerful for people with hidden disabilities, like psychiatric disabilities, and can produce even more egregious discrimination than for folks who are in wheelchairs or have a more visible disability.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you explain, first, what you’re talking about when you say psychiatric disabilities?

ANDY IMPARATO:

Well, in my case, I have bipolar disorder or manic depression. You know, the common forms of psychiatric disabilities are things like depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia. It’s mental impairments that have been diagnosed and have an impact on functioning that limits major life activities.

AMY GOODMAN:

And how are you protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

ANDY IMPARATO:

Well, actually, one could make an argument that, thanks to the Supreme Court and something they did last term, I may not be protected. The law, as it was written, talked about people with mental impairments being protected against discrimination in employment, insurance, other arenas. But the Supreme Court issued a series of decisions last term that said when you’re determining whether or not somebody is impaired and is limited in a major life activity, you should look at how they’re functioning with their medication. So, somebody who’s able to take medications and improve their functioning to the point where they’re not experiencing the limitation or the significant limitation may not have any civil rights protections, even though they do experience discrimination.

AMY GOODMAN:

What did the Supreme Court rule?

ANDY IMPARATO:

They said that when you look at whether or not somebody is covered, you take into account what they call a mitigating measure. In my case, it’s medication. In somebody else’s case, it might be a hearing aid. If somebody is able to bring their functioning up to a level where they’re no longer substantially limited, then they lose their civil rights protections.

AMY GOODMAN:

Commissioner Paul Miller, what did this mean for cases brought to the EEOC?

PAUL MILLER:

We were very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision in this trilogy of cases. And, of course, the EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce the law, as laid out by the Supreme Court. I do think that it’s important, though, and that the EEOC focus on and that people focus on the underlying discrimination that occurs against people either who use mitigating measures or who have hidden disabilities. In my mind, it’s totally unfair that somebody who uses medication and, in fact, be doing things to basically make themselves more productive and more useful in the workplace, that fact will be held against them by the Supreme Court under their doctrine of mitigating measures.

I think what’s really important is that we focus on the fact that some employers are focusing on myths, fears and stereotypes, excluding qualified people from work in the workplace, rather than letting them in. What’s important to note is, after all, the ADA really seeks to empower disabled people who want to enter the workforce and become taxpayers, rather than sitting at home collecting benefits and being tax users. And I have to ask myself as a part of this society, where do we fall — where do I fall on the line? I line up behind people who want to work for a living.

AMY GOODMAN:

Commissioner Paul Miller was appointed by Clinton to the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with implementing the ADA. Let’s look at the original law and how it actually came into being. Frieda Zames?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, when you say the original law, what do you mean? The ADA?

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

The ADA, yeah.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, well —

AMY GOODMAN:

Or the one before it. I mean, this took a level of activism that actually was based in California.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, yes and no.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Well, I think she’s referring to the fact that the same year that James Meredith broke the color law in Mississippi, the —- what we think of as, you know, the father of the movement -—

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, Ed Roberts.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Ed Roberts, the father of the movement, a severely disabled man who had to sleep in an iron lung, broke the disability line in the University of California.

AMY GOODMAN:

What was an iron lung?

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

An iron lung was what you — it was a breathing device that people with polio, many people with polio — the upper respiratory system was affected, and they could not breathe.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

And he practically —

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

And it actually — it breathed, in a sense, breathed for them. So, in order for him to sleep at night, he had to go back into the iron lung. He would — and during the day, he would go to classes or go to demonstrations. This was the ’60s in California. A lot of stuff was happening.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, he worked. He had a very important job.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Yeah.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

He was the head of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Yeah, but that’s after he graduated and got a degree —

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Right.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

—- and got a Master’s in, I think -— but the point is that he was a functioning person during the day as an activist and as a student, but at night he had to sleep in an iron lung. But he had to sue in order to get in the school. In fact, when he entered the school and applied, what he was told is, the quote is, “We tried cripples. They don’t work.” Those kinds of statements were allowed. I can say that when Frieda went for a job, her first jobs, she was —- people were able to say to her -—

FRIEDA ZAMES:

And they did.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

And they did. They said, “We can’t hire you.”

FRIEDA ZAMES:

“You’re disabled.”

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

“You’re disabled.” This was allowed.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Frieda Zames, what was your response?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

That I can do the job. Give me a chance.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

And the reason she got a job was because they needed people so badly, you know, that they eventually — they took her, in an insurance company and eventually the university. And, boy, did she pay them back. I mean, that is to say, she made herself very valuable to whatever institution she worked for.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

And that’s what happened, you know, during when people — during the war. They would hire disabled people, and then, after the war, they would let them go.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

They would say they not — they were unemployable. They would hire them during the war, and then, when the war was over and the GIs came back, they said people with disabilities, those same people, were unemployable.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

It’s very similar to women.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mm-hmm. Mike Landwehr in Tucson, Arizona, let’s talk about images of people with disabilities in the media. You work at a community radio station, a different place than the rest of the media, but what can you say about the way you feel people are represented?

MIKE LANDWEHR:

I think we’re represented pretty poorly as a rule, if you —

AMY GOODMAN:

As loud as you can.

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re getting very quiet here.

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Historically, we have — if you look at the disabled role models that we have in films and on television, we’ve had Mr. Magoo and a lot of jokes about not being able to see well and not admitting that that’s a problem. We’ve had — it’s very similar to when we saw blacks in early films, and very stereotypical.

And then we have Jerry Lewis parading kids around with disabilities, exploiting young people, raising money for a good cause, but at the same time demeaning the people that he’s intending to assist. So we’ve had a lot of problems with that. People think because of the Jerry Lewis telethons, that all kids who have disabilities are not going to grow up, they’re going to die at a very young age, and people are afraid to hire somebody who is not going to be around to do the job. A lot of bad images have come out of people who have gotten up and started talking about us.

That’s turning around a little bit, and there is a little bit of a backlash, where we’re seeing a lot of politically incorrect humor across the board. But we’re seeing people with disabilities once again being made fun of, and we don’t have anybody on television or people in the movies that really fairly represent the life of a person with a disability. A couple of movies have tackled that subject pretty well. One was Coming Home. The other one was Born on the Fourth of July. And outside of that, we don’t have very much. We have pretty poor images, and it reflects very badly on all of the rest of us.

AMY GOODMAN:

Frieda Zames?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, I think the thing that bothers me the most about the media is that we’re rarely given a chance to talk about our own issues, the political issues. I mean, you see people, you know, African Americans, on television and radio talking about their issues. You see women talking about their issues. Gay people. But we never get a chance to discuss our issues from our point of view. It’s always other people talking about us, and I think that bothers me more than even the terrible images.

AMY GOODMAN:

There’s a good book out on the disability rights movement called Nothing About Us Without Us

FRIEDA ZAMES:

About Us Without Us. Yes, I have the book.

AMY GOODMAN:

— which very well says it. Andy Imparato, for people who have psychiatric disabilities, what about the media representation of you?

Andy, are you there? I guess he hung up the line.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Well, I can just give a recent example from the New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN:

Doris Zames Fleischer.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

There was a four-piece group of articles in the New York Times about rampage killers, and it described people who go on shooting sprees. What it was, it was anecdotes about terrible people with psychiatric disabilities who go on shooting sprees. Somewhere hidden in a jump page of the third article was the statement that these people with psychiatric disabilities who use guns on shooting sprees form a very, very minute minority of these cases. It’s very rare. But you wouldn’t know that, because it was a headline, you know, “Rampage Killers.” Now, the purpose that Fox Butterworth [sic] had — I think that’s who wrote the articles —- was really -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Fox Butterfield.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Butterfield, sorry, I knew the name was wrong — Fox Butterfield had for writing these articles was really about gun control. He was talking about the ease with which people get guns. But in the process, he gave — he fed that stereotype.

Peter Kramer, who’s a famous psychologist, wrote, among other books, Listening to Prozac and many other books, has pointed out that people with psychiatric disabilities are — make very — many who are hired make excellent employees. People who are obsessive-compulsive, they make really — you know, that’s a worker that you want. And they have served us very well. They’re in the gene pool for a reason. Abraham Lincoln was probably clinically depressed.

By the way, psychiatric disabilities now forms the first, in terms of the number of cases, that are bringing to the EEOC. It’s now the number one cause. There have been a number of cases.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Yeah, and I just want to make a point about people — employment. The hardest thing for a person with a disability is when you first go for a job, because you can’t prove that you were discriminated against. All they have to say is, we found someone more qualified.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

The same thing that people with any other — you know, people of color, women. You can always say somebody else was more qualified. You don’t see the other person’s résumé, so how do you sue?

AMY GOODMAN:

In your book that the two of you wrote as sisters, looking at The Disability Rights Movement, Frieda Zames and Doris Zames Fleischer, From Charity to Confrontation, you interviewed more than a hundred people, activists and others, dealing with physical and mental handicaps. What difference has that made for you, Frieda Zames? What did you learn?

FRIEDA ZAMES:

Well, I think what I got from it was that the disability issue is throughout the country and that there is a movement. This is a big country, and every area, every locality, kind of does it its own way, deals with disability, to some degree, its own way. I mean, of course, we get together on federal laws, but it’s the diversity in every community, in all races, you know, all different disabilities. And we’ve met such wonderful people, such amazing people, you know, that — and how they deal with the discrimination, how they work to fight discrimination, and how we’re being successful, because we have —- as a group, we have very little money. We have very little, you know -—

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

Lobbying power.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

I mean, they call us a disability lobby, but it’s all a myth. There’s no such lobby. I mean, it’s just that when we’re needed, we work together, and so we’re considered a lobby. And it really was a wonderful experience interviewing all these different people.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

I’d like to add that I think of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we indicate that, as every American’s insurance policy. After all, disability, it’s the one “ism” everyone will probably, at some point in their lives, join. But we deal with it in our lives all the time, usually first in our family, parents, etc., and then in ourselves, but eventually everybody becomes a member of the movement in a very — in a sense, in a very personal and private way.

FRIEDA ZAMES:

And unfortunately, very few people recognize this. Very few non-disabled people recognize this.

DORIS ZAMES FLEISCHER:

And it’s probably threatening, too threatening to think about, so people don’t want to understand their relationship, their very personal relationship. They’re not doing somebody else a favor; they’re doing themselves a favor.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mike Landwehr, your final comments on this day of the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, of where we go from here, where the most effort must be put in now.

MIKE LANDWEHR:

Well, we’ve definitely come a long way, and we’re seeing the ADA under attack a little bit from the Supreme Court. We’re going to have to teach the Supreme Court something about these laws, the laws that got challenged last year in the last term. The Supreme Court was really wrongheaded about making these decisions about who is disabled and who’s not.

There are two points in the ADA that we haven’t mentioned yet. There are three ways that you can be covered. One is if you obviously have a disability. One is if you’re regarded as having a disability. And three, if you have a history of having a disability. And they ignored those other two points when they made these decisions. And when they take a look at the ADA in the next term, when they’re looking at constitutionality and so forth, they’re going to have to look and understand this law a lot better than they already do. Those cases were pretty close. They were five-to-four, so we only have to educate one Supreme Court member, and we’ll be fine there. There’s another —

AMY GOODMAN:

That’s about it, Mike. We have to wrap up the program. I want to thank you very much for being with us from Tucson, KXCI, program director there. And I also want to thank Andy Imparato from the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the Zames sisters, their new book called The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, also Commissioner Paul Miller of the EEOC. That does it for today’s program. Earlier on the show, Arlene Mayerson of the Disabilities Rights Education and Defense Fund, their website is dredf.org.

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