Hanna: What you wish for

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(HOST) Vermont Law School Professor and commentator Cheryl Hanna has had a challenging few weeks, but she’s learned some potentially valuable lessons.

(HANNA) As work and laundry just kept piling up this winter, all I kept saying to myself was, "I need a break!"

Well, on the first day of my long-awaited sabbatical, I got it.  I broke my foot – I took a misstep while wearing sensible shoes – and just like that I’m wearing a giant black boot and walking on crutches for the foreseeable future.

To counter my self-pity, my friends said things like, "Think of all the extra time you’ll have to write," and, "you’ll really appreciate your family who’ll be there to help."  And of course I’m grateful for those things; but what I’ve really gained a new appreciation for is the Americans with Disabilities Act, because instead of sitting at home and carrying on about my foot, I can still get out into the world and – well – just carry on.

Congress passed the law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment and in public accommodations and transportation, and it has been my savior.

Even though stairs and long walks are now my enemies, I can still go out with my family to our favorite restaurant because it has a ramp. I can fly alone to DC to give a speech and know I can get assistance on the plane and in the hotel. I can continue to work because my employer – and many others – have removed physical barriers to people with disabilities – like me.

The law’s stated purposed is that it provides people with disabilities the "…opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous." It also saves the government billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses because people don’t have to become dependent and nonproductive.

With folks getting older and soldiers returning from war with injuries, the ADA is especially critical to ensuring the continuation of a truly participatory democracy.

What’s really interesting to me about the ADA is that, unlike laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, for example – so you’d know up front if you were protected – anyone at anytime can become disabled.

That’s why the law ultimately enjoys such broad support and why Congress continues to expand its reach. It’s in the collective best interest of all of us because you just never know when you’ll need it.

I also have a new appreciation for handicapped parking spaces. But when you’re in a crowded lot, I don’t advise you to say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I had one of those handicap stickers for my car," because, well, you might just get what you wish for.

And even though you can’t do laundry on crutches, let’s just consider that the silver lining!

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