Anger and the ADA: Unresolved Expectations

Forte, Spring, 1993, Vol. 12. No. 2

Anthony Tusler, M.R.A.

Sonoma State Univeristy

Rohnert Park, CA 94928

I was at the "Green Zone," on the traffic island at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) waiting for the rental car company to pick me up. It was raining; only a little on me. Inaccessible van after van passed by but no wheelchair friendly transportation. I waited for almost an hour. How did I get stuck on that rain slick island? I know better. When one is a wheelchair user, travel is an ugly business and I thought I’d learned my lesson. Up until last year I was able to anticipate travel problems and work around them. I always took portable hand controls just in case the rental car wasn’t equipped right. But lately I’ve blithely showed up at various airlines and rental car agencies expecting that my disability needs will be met. Have I received a rude awakening. The world is changing but it hasn’t been magically transformed. It makes me mad.

I find myself picking up a burden that I had thought I had put down forever. I discover that I’m angry, impatient, and resentful more and more these days. I have taken awhile to trace down why. I think the blame lies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’ve raised my expectations. While I thought I was a hard-headed realist, I find my hope rises up and clouds my common sense. I know full well how slowly social change takes place. Knowing doesn’t change the fact that I want disability rights, control, and accessibility now.

I spent years being angry. I carried around a load of anger and resentment. I never knew what it was about. I often didn’t know my anger was there, being such a constant in my life. I have been told that people remember me from those days when I was in my late teens and early twenties as someone who was distant and uptight. I knew that I didn’t fit in but I refused to accept the idea that my disability had anything to do with it.

I remember clearly the moment that I recognized my disability status. I saw that I was angry about how the world treated me because of my disability status. I could finally lay down my burden. Once I could name it; once I found I shared it with others I was free (for the moment). It is similar to the "A-ha" experience that I’ve heard women describe when relating their experiences in 1970s consciousness raising groups.

And now I’m back to being angry. But I know why now. I have had a face-to-face glimpse of the extent and nature of disability discrimination. And I’ve seen my experience reflected in it. I have come to hope for a world where I can get on a plane, fly to LAX, rent a car, and get to my meeting without having the world throw my disability in my face.

That day will come. Some of it depends on luck; some on planning; and some on who wins which ADA lawsuit. I talked to a friend and mentor about my dilemma. As I related all the changes that I see going on at SSU, in California, in Washington, D.C. I remembered how change occurs. My anger points me in the right direction. It reminds me why I work for disability rights. But my anger doesn’t sustain me. It doesn’t inspire those I would hope to change. What does carry me is the faith I have in my brothers and sisters with disabilities. The faith that we have a place in the world. We have valuable lessons to teach people about difference, adaptation, and survival. We will be able to do it. The world won’t end up looking like I have planned but it will be the place where I want to live.

All Rights Reserved, Anthony Tusler, 1993