By Melissa Lyans
I would like to provide a different picture, one of an individual who lived most of his adult life before the passage of this important milestone in equal rights. My father became a disabled veteran one horrible day in 1943, when his damaged fighter plane crashed into the trees in Sicily. He suffered grave injuries, including one to his spinal cord.
The moment his life became a physical challenge, he also endured the challenge of negative attitudes toward his disability. First the doctors said he wouldn’t live through the night, then the rehab doctors said he’d never leave his wheelchair, never drive, never work, etc.
He was determined to prove them wrong, and through hard work and development of tremendous upper body strength, he learned to walk short distances with the help of two canes. He had hand controls installed in his car, but before the era of handicapped parking spaces, he sometimes drove many times around the block before he found a parking place near enough to school and work.
There were no ramps or elevators in some of the buildings at the university, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in English literature. He walked up the stairs by gripping the railing with one hand, holding both canes and his briefcase with the other, then, one leg at a time, he dragged up the dead weight of his lower body, repeating the process for each step.
He wanted to be a college English professor, but his adviser told him that no university would ever hire a “cripple.” He applied anyway and got only one offer, from a small college in North Dakota at a salary that could not support his young family.
He turned instead to his other love — music — and enjoyed a long career as a professional jazz musician, teacher and instrument repair technician. Even in the more accepting world of music, he encountered obstacles. He landed a long-term gig at a supper club, only to be fired the first week, because one of the diners complained to the owner, saying that she came to the club to enjoy herself and did not want to have to look at a disabled musician while she ate her dinner.
Before the passage of laws that promise equal rights to individuals with disabilities, he had no recourse but to make the best of it in an unaccommodating world. The ADA is a good and necessary law. Just as was the case with other landmark laws, such as the voting rights act, there are going to be many who resist the change, and many who feel it is an imposition on their rights.
Yes, there have been some frivolous lawsuits, and it’s a good thing that the predatory practices of bad lawyers are being curbed, but there are still many businesses that are not in compliance. If we want to be a society that truly respects the rights of all its people, and a society that welcomes diversity — two underlying principles of equal rights laws — then I think it is time we stop complaining and start complying.
— Melissa Lyans is a Davis resident.