Courtesy of Anna in her post Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance, I found this video – the lowlights of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit!” show on the Americans With Disabilities Act.
I thought maybe we could play bingo with the ableist tropes in the video. There’s no card (that I can find) yet for generic ableism bingo, only more specialised ones for autism and invisible illness. Who’d like to start? For bonus points, we could play “Fibs about the ADA”, too.
[A man using axillary crutches is seen getting into a car. It appears to be an unmodified car, and he is not using any aids other than crutches.]
Penn in voiceover : Greg Perry is America’s most prolific author of computer books. He hates the ADA.
[Greg Perry, dressed in a collared shirt and suit jacket, is sitting in a book-lined study.]
I have found absolutely nothing about the Americans with Disabilities Act that I like. [smiles]
Penn in voiceover: But there is something this guy would like the Federal government to do for him.
Perry: I want the government to get out of my way and leave me alone. Because I more easily trip over things that get in my way.
[Perry is now seen standing on a street verge, leaning on his crutches.]
Perry: Greg Perry. Author. Handicapped man. Born with three fingers and one leg.
Perry in voiceover, cutting back to the study: There were people kicking crutches out from under people before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law…
[Perry is walking along a pavement. He approaches a door. A man appears from out of frame.]
Man: Can I get that for you? [reaches for door.]
Perry: Thankyou, I appreciate that. [goes through door as man opens it for him]
Perry in voiceover: It took the Americans with Disabilities Act to harm the handicapped.
Penn in voiceover: Greg Perry is against the ADA, In fact, he even wrote a book, Disabling America: The Unintended Consequences of the Government’s Protection of the Handicapped.
[Another shot of Greg walking along with crutches cuts to the book cover. It has a standardised International wheelchair disability symbol on the front.]
Perry: I am thrilled that I was born long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. Because if I had been born after the law had been signed, I would be a loser today. I wouldn’t be the success that some people consider me to be.
[Shot of Perry typing on a laptop. His hand atypicalities are clearly visible.]
Penn: With more than 75 titles to his name, Greg Perry is the most prolific author of computer books in the world. He offered us his book about – “Linux?” – but, you know.
Perry: I would be a loser because I know myself, and I know that as a teenager, I would have done anything to get out of work, to take extra money, to get on the government dole. Without this law, the truly handicapped would be socially, morally, and financially better off than they are today.
[Shot of two women approaching a shopping centre. A Staples store in in the background. Cut to ]
Hudgins [in a study]: The ADA defines a disability as a…a…a…an impairment of a major life function. Well. What is an impairment of a major life function?
Hudgins [back inside a study]: Today in America, if you take all of the people who are legally blind, legally deaf, and in wheelchairs or with serious mobility problems, you’re talking about maybe four or five million people.
[visual of a van with a ramp leading into it. The van is parked in an accessible parking space. A woman in a powerchair drives up the ramp into the van.]
Penn in voiceover: That’s a pretty small number. And yet the ADA’s own website says there are upwards of fifty million people in the US with a disability. That clearly can’t be the case.
Hudgins: That means like – what, one in six? – and that’s where the problem comes, is now you’ve created a whole government industry to deal with these situations. And it’s going to be very costly, and it’s going to be disingenuous to the people who have real problems, such as in wheelchairs or legally blind.
[Visual of Perry crutching along through a carpark, smirking. He seems to smirk a lot.]
Penn: Let’s find out Greg Perry’s take on handicapped parking.
[Perry goes over to an empty accessible parking space, with a kerb cut next to it. There are multiple other empty spaces in the carpark. The carpark appears to serve a strip mall with various businesses.]
Perry: What we have here is something that you will find all over America, millions of times. And that is an empty wheelchair parking space. It is ok if this business wants to have a wheelchair parking space. That’s great. But to have a gun put to their heads to put this here when it’s not needed? That’s the bad thing.
[Visual of several empty accessible parking spaces. Many of the regular parking spaces in view are empty also.]
Penn: The ADA says all businesses must have designated handicapped parking. There’s no room for compassion. It’s all mandated. The larger your store, the more spaces you are required to have.
Hudgins: The real fundamental issue here that gets lost in the whole discussion of the ADA is private property. And the freedom of individuals to use their property as they see fit.
[Visual of Perry continuing to stand morosely in the first accessible parking space, staring at the wheelchair symbol, and shaking his head glumly.]
Penn: When you ask Greg Perry, he’ll say big and small businesses alike will make accommodations for the handicapped on their own, without government mandates, because it’s good for business.
[Perry approaches a business doorway. Inexplicably, someone who just happens to be coming out of the door at the same time says "Are you going in here?" and opens the door for him. Perry says "Why yes! Thank you so much", and proceeeds through.]
Perry: I want Wal-Mart to do whatever they want to do to keep me as a customer. But if they don’t, someone next door to Wal-Mart will want to do that. They will take my money.
[A new visual of a carpark with several empty spaces, including one accessible space.]
Penn: Parking isn’t the only thing the ADA guarantees the handicapped. [visual of document; montage of passages from the document] This is a copy of the official ADA Standards for Accessible Design. It’s a hundred pages of dense legalese that dictates a thousand building codes including the distance of toilet can be from a wall, the width of a handicapped parking space, the height of indoor carpet, and even the style of knob on your front door.
[Perry points to a swing-handle type doorknob.]
Perry: Look at this! And then over here, here’s another one, [he proceeds down a hallway], and down here, is yet another one! All the way down the line.
[Closeup of OUTRAGEOUSLY OFFENSIVE swing-handle door.]
Perry: What most people don’t realise is that round doorknobs are illegal in the United States of America. Most people don’t know that. This is just crazy!
Penn: Oh no. That’s not crazy. You’re not even in crazy county.
[Perry goes to his car and drives.]
Penn: You want blazing can’t-look-at-it-directly-because-your-face-will-crack crazy?
[Visual of a drive-up ATM.]
Penn: Your drive-up ATMs also have to have instructions – in Braille.
Perry [parked at the ATM]: I guess you have to have a Braille steering wheel to get here, which I don’t have. But that seems to make about as much sense as the Braille on the drive-up ATM.
Peters [standing on a street]: What happened was, around the Thanksgiving holiday in 2005, a disabled attorney sent 67 letters to local businesses, which was almost every business in the town. And he alleged that he had encountered problems when he came here for a weekend getaway. David Warren Peters, I’m an attorney with Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse. He demanded $200 000. Uh, he demanded about $2250 from each tenant and $4000 from each landlord.
[Visual of letter of demand]
Peters: He structured it so that his demands went up day by day. That every day they waited to agree to them, that they would have to pay more.
Business owner in what seems to be a gift/jewellery shop: They demanded that people respond within two days. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with compliance.
Peters: A lot of businesses were just scared out of their wits.
[Visual of random working at a computer]
Hudgins: When the ADA was passed, only about 30% of people with a disability were in the workforce. Today, that really hasn’t changed, if anything, it’s gone down a little bit.
Perry: And I say, if it hasn’t changed at all, throw the law out! It hasn’t done any good, but it’s done a lot of harm. People are afraid to hire the handicapped these days. That wasn’t true before the ADA was signed into law. People are afraid, because they call us “walking lawsuits”. I happen to call us “rolling lawsuits” at times, but we are “walking lawsuits”.
[random computer worker guy walks down a corridor, using a cane]
Hudgins: The Americans with Disabilities Act discourages employers to hire people with disabilities because those people with disabilities have a special standing before the court, a special law under which they can sue, and so – what’s the incentive to hire a person with a disability? You think you’re going to get sued!
Perry: The ADA is not a civil rights issue because we’re all different. Everyone is different. You’ve got capabilities I don’t have, and I’ve got capabilities that you don’t have, and that’s always going to be the case. Nothing the government does can make me equal to you in any way. It teaches people they don’t have to help others who need help. That’s where the big harm occurs. [More visuals of Perry wandering around.] Coercion never produces compassion. But this law, they say, will produce a more compassionate America. I say it does exactly the opposite of its intent.
[Perry wanders up to a door. A child who happens to be hanging around opens it for him. He says smarmily, "Well thankyou! I appreciate that."]
[Back to the studio. A muscled guy in a tanktop pop wheelies on a manual wheelchair in the background. It occurs to me that I think this is the first person to be visibly of colour in the entire video. Music plays. Penn and Teller watch wheelie guy.]
Penn: Any time you say ‘There oughtta be a law’, there probably oughtn’t to be. Every law takes away some of our freedoms. I lose my freedom to murder you [motions to Teller], you lose your freedom to murder me, that’s worth the tradeoff. But using the law to bludgeon people into being nicer? That’s bullshit. Respecting and helping the disabled is the right thing to do. Hold open a door! If you can, park and walk a little distance to the store! Celebrate it! We’re all a little different, and we can all help each other out.
[Admires wheelie guy.]
Penn: Man. I wish I could do that.