OPINION SHAPER: Man in wheelchair offers lesson in government
We live in an era when people from different political perspectives spend a lot of time squabbling over who's right, who's got the higher moral ground, and what's better for our nation and our planet - bigger government, less government, higher or lower taxes, etc.
I know what I feel personally, but I admit that I don't always have the answers or a solution to what ails us.
I do, however, know when I see something that works. Today, I saw a man in a wheelchair in the grocery store. He seemed to have some kind of muscular condition. His arms were bent at the wrist, and he didn't seem able to use his hands. He also wore some kind of breathing apparatus, and he needed assistance in the store. I saw him several times, and I noticed people were helping him, which was cool, but not what got my attention.
As I left the store, I saw the guy again. He was tooling along in his motorized chair, by himself, cutting through the store's parking lot and then through a restaurant's lot, to get to the sidewalk on Olive. I drove slowly so I could watch his progress.
He had a backpack on his chair but no bags, so he clearly did not buy very much, but he was speeding along, enjoying the 88-degree weather and the sunshine, rather than taking any number of public transportation vehicles that are no doubt at his disposal. He must live close, I thought. Then I checked the sidewalk to see if it had wheelchair access. It did.
In fact, all along Olive there are sidewalks with wheelchair access. They all looked fairly new. I work in city government, so I know how much it costs to rebuild a sidewalk. And then it hit me: We did that. We built those sidewalks. As a nation, as a society, we decided a few years back that we needed to make our world more user- friendly, more accessible to folks in wheelchairs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was initially passed in 1990. I looked it up. Here is just a little bit of what the original bill, which was updated in 2008, says under "Findings": "Some 43,000,000 Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities … Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate [these] individuals … [who] continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including … relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities."
These were the findings of Congress, which essentially said: Shame on us. But here's the best part: "The Nation's proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency … to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous…"
This part reminds me first that we are a nation and second that as a nation, we have ideals, beliefs and goals designed to ensure our common prosperity. The problem is we can't agree on how to achieve that. The fight has gotten so loud and so negative that it looks increasingly like we may never agree on anything again.
So maybe what we need to do is remind ourselves of what we have done in the past, what we have achieved when we worked together on a common goal.
Together we decided, as a nation, that even though it was going to cost an awful lot of money to rebuild sidewalks and make them handicapped-accessible, it was the right and smart thing to do.
Together, we made it possible for the guy in the wheelchair to get outside, enjoy the nice weather on a beautiful fall day and experience just a fraction of the independence that the rest of us take for granted every day. We did that. We did that together. There is something to be learned from that.