Spiderman and the ADA
In Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spiderman’s first appearance), Stan Lee wrote, “With great power there must also come — great responsibility.” Stan Lee was not the first to use the phrase, but when I think about it, the phrase applies to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While it is certainly debatable whether the ADA gives people with disabilities “great power,” it really is not debatable that the ADA gives us “great responsibility.”
And that responsibility is not just for ourselves, but for future generations as well. When President George H.W. Bush said at the signing of the ADA on July 26, 1990, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” the wall started tumbling. But without people maintaining constant vigilance that tumbling will stop.
People with disabilities have made some amazing strides in the past 28 years; thanks, in no small part, to the ADA. But we can’t afford to forget that the ADA is a law of empowerment and not a law of entitlement! People with disabilities can use the ADA to achieve positive outcomes, but they need to know how to use it do that.
Our responsibilities are two-fold: first we have a responsibility to younger generations of people with disabilities to make sure that they understand the ADA and how to go about making it work for them; and second we have a responsibility to not abuse the ADA with frivolous lawsuits and claims of protection from the ADA when those claims are false (for example, claiming your pet is a service animal so it can accompany you into stores and restaurants).
In this 28th year of the ADA, we can look back on some significant improvements for the civil rights of people with disabilities, but we must not forget that “With great power there must also come — great responsibility” and we must stay vigilant or we risk taking a step backward. For instance, legislative attacks on the current enforcement methods of the ADA have been proposed. This would make it harder for individuals to bring lawsuits and lessen the burden on businesses. The ADA is not automatic, so individuals already have a burden when they are bringing the lawsuit and seeking remedies that may not include money but just ability to get compliance. Additionally, violations of the law persist. While lack of compliance may not be intentional and rather because of lack of knowledge of the requirements of the ADA, it remains our responsibility to educate architects, builders, hospitality industry, airlines and the list goes on. While things have gotten better in 28 years, we still have a long way to go. I dream of the day when I arrive at a hotel after making a reservation for an accessible room with a roll in shower and that room is ready for me every single time. Additionally, even greater improvements such as being able to stay in your wheelchair when flying may become a reality if individuals with disabilities continue to push forward and advocate. Let’s shoot for the moon.
It is important for the disability community and our friends and comrades to help raise awareness of rights under the ADA. If you see someone illegally parking in a disabled parking space for convenience, speak up. Change occurs one person at a time. Yes, it is important not to overlook smaller issues that impact people with disabilities (such as the current debate over straws), but we must not forget the big issues that can undermine the foundational purpose and vision of the ADA.
So even though Spiderman doesn’t deal with the ADA too much, the statement made in Amazing Fantasy #15 applies. Join me in making a renewed commitment to preserving the civil rights of individuals with disabilities under the ADA.