Monday, February 12, 2007

Disability rights: It is not one world

While the following is not particularly about DSS at a postsecondary institution, it is, nonetheless, a brief discussion about the rights appreciated by people with disabilities here in the United States.

Reknowned radio commentator and newsman Paul Harvey invokes a phrase when discussing subjects that reflect situations in other countries that play out differently than they might have here in the good old U.S. of A. He usually closes these narratives by highlighting, “It is not one world.”

The same might be said when discussing disability law and the rights of people with disabilities. Remember that the ADA is the “Americans” with Disabilities Act. These rights do not go beyond our border, not even to our closest neighbor to the south, Mexico.

A recent Houston Chronicle article illustrates the
plight of Mexicans with disabilities
through Joaquin Alva, a man who was paralyzed from the chest down in an auto accident. He now uses a wheelchair and walks with the assistance of elbow crutches and leg braces. He is a 31-year old government worker and is also a stalwart disability advocate.

The article reports:
“When a Mexico City-based health-club chain barred him from using its facilities, the 31-year-old federal government worker decided to teach the company a lesson in disability rights.
He's achieved more than that. In a country where the disabled have long lived on the fringes of society, suffered discrimination or simply been ignored, Alva has made their plight headline news. And in the process, he's shamed the government into enforcing, in his case, its much-touted new laws protecting disabled rights.
It took five months. But faced with a lawsuit, government fines and a public relations nightmare, Sports World agreed to make its 10 health clubs disabled-accessible within three months.
It also has accepted Alva's proposal to provide 30 free memberships for the disabled, including 15 members of Mexico's Special Olympics squad.”

The article points out that even though Mexico has had disability rights laws since 1995, enforcement, the teeth that make legislation work, has been spotty at best. The implication is that without activism to bring about action, none will be taken.

Here in America, we have the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as various state laws to support the rights of those with disabilities. The laws allow for legal recourse and these may be pursued by the very people who find themselves discriminated against. While our system of laws isn’t always perfect, the rights of people with disabilities are given a good base to stand on. We may not always appreciate the rights we have until we look elsewhere to see what isn’t there.

Also, remember that, even if there are problems, Mexico does have laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. With these in place and better enforcement, the situation for people with disabilities can only get better. There are other countries that have no laws protecting the rights of these people.

Mr. Harvey, you are correct-- It is not one world.

1 comment:

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