"Handicapped" In Santa Monica

Posted: Jul 12, 2001 12:00 AM
You own a busy restaurant. Agile waiters and waitresses carrying hot food and coffee deftly avoid colliding with each other as they scurry from table to table. Good hostesses, you find, don't grow on trees, and dang gummit, your experienced one just quit. You place ads and use word of mouth. A woman applies. She appears personable and enthusiastic. One catch -- she's deaf. You weigh the pros and cons, and, despite her enthusiasm and pluck in dealing with her "handicap," you fear liability exposure. What if she bumps into someone carrying a hot pot of decaf, or fails to sense someone coming up behind her with a tray full of hot food? So you politely turn her down. A restaurateur, a couple of years ago, faced this very dilemma when he rejected, for the position of hostess, a deaf applicant. But the rejected applicant cried foul under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and went directly to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which took up her case. When I spoke to the claimant's EEOC lawyer, I defended the restaurateur's decision as a simple matter of common sense, as well as fear of tort liability. He responded that Congress created the ADA to get Americans to "think differently about the disabled." Oh. Which brings us to Santa Monica, California. The Santa Monica City Council is now considering legislation to increase "visitability" to private homes! What is "visitability"? Why, it's the ability for a disabled person to visit friends. And many friends of the disabled live in homes lacking handicap accessibility. So, what to do? Have the handicapped visitor bring a portable ramp when visiting friends? No. Ask that friends install a ramp for the handicapped visitor? No. Have the handicapped visitor call ahead to arrange assistance? No. To paraphrase the classic line from the movie "Chinatown," "Forget it, Jake, it's Santa Monica." So, the Santa Monica City Council is now considering a law -- repeat, a law -- mandating that private homeowners spend their own money to make their homes handicap "visitable." But what about the Constitution? What about property rights? The People's Republic of Santa Monica, remember? The land of below-market rent-controlled apartments whose tenants drive BMWs while their landlords drive Hondas. The measure under consideration requires at least one handicapped accessible ground-level entrance, 36-inch wide hallways and at least one bathroom with a 32-inch wide doorway. This applies to all new Santa Monica homes, as well as those undergoing extensive renovation. Alan Toy, a proponent of "visitability" who sits on the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, suffers from polio. Toy quite bluntly said, "I'm one of those people who thinks community rights supercede property rights." Double-oh, comrade. And consider the "plight" of "handicapped" Santa Monica resident Mary Ann Jones. Confined to a wheelchair and crutches for 32 years, Jones, the executive director of the Westside Center for Independent Living, considers the proposed requirements vital "because we can't go see our friends." Quite a contrast from the attitude of "disabled" non-Santa Monica resident Mary Blanton of Georgia. She recently sent me the following letter: "Mr. Elder, "I am an American with a disability. I have a very rare genetic deletion that has rendered me legally blind. I have been told all my life that I should rely on the welfare state for my subsistence. After all, a 'handicapped' person should not be expected to support themselves, now should they? "Well guess what? This 'blind' person is a successful SOFTWARE ENGINEER! Gee, imagine that. I have had people tell me all my adult life that my commitment to my career and to supporting myself is threatening other people's 'benefits' from the welfare state. You see, since I have shown, for the past 13 years, that a 'handicapped' person CAN have a successful career AND support themselves AND their family, then other 'handicapped' people may be forced to WORK for their living. (OH, GASP!!! HORROR OF HORRORS!!!) "I COULD be the poster child for the welfare state. INSTEAD, I am the poster child for what the 'disabled' can do if they WANT to. The more I hear about victimhood, about the Social Safety Net, about how the government OWES people a life and a living, about how the government should provide a retirement plan for us, the more I talk about my 'disability.' I do this in the VAIN hope that ONE other person with a 'disability' will rise to the challenge and take responsibility for their OWN life and living. If I can get one 'disabled' person, one 'victim,' one person trapped in the Social Safety Net to open their eyes and realize THEY are the key to THEIR success, I have succeeded." Alan Toy of Santa Monica, California, meet Mary Blanton of Alpharetta, Georgia.