BostonNOW ran a great story about accessibility; too bad it wasn't edited by someone with knowledge of appropriate terminology

On the front page of today's BostonNOW, there's a story about automotive dealers providing temporary/moveable hand controls for people who wish to test drive vehicles. It's great that they ran the story to raise awareness, and astonishing that they quoted owners of car dealerships who didn't realize that the ADA requires them to have hand controls available.

However, in true BostonNOW fashion, the story clearly wasn't edited by anyone who has any knowledge of preferred disability terminology. Or anyone who could look up disability terminology in the Associated Press stylebook or by doing a quick google search.

Here's the story, shamelessly reprinted in its entirety, with my copy-editing:

DisabledPeople with disabilities given access to test-drives
Dealerships apparently have to provide hand controls
Jon Tapper, Correspondent

An agreement reached between the one of the Commonwealth's biggest auto dealers and a disabled shopper with a disability who filed a discrimination complaint against his company could have significant implications across the state.

"I'd argue any dealership is at risk because of this case," Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination Chairman Walter Sullivan said.

Ernie Boch, Jr., who owns and operates eight dealerships in Massachusetts, had been the subject of a discrimination complaint from a disabled woman with a disability who wanted to test-drive a vehicle and was denied access to hand controls.

After initially contesting the matter, Boch began making the hand controls available. The Commission Against Discrimination, which received the complaint, lauded Boch for offering the service all his dealerships - not just the one that had been the subject of the case.

"I didn't realize how many people actually needed (hand controls)," Boch said in a recent interview. "I don't think I placed any importance on it at first."

The Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association said it had not heard of the issue, and was not aware of other dealerships with similar policies. A BostonNOW survey of 10 area auto dealers found that none had hand controls available for disabled test-drivers with a disability, but one - Expressway Toyota in Dorchester - said it plans to.

Advocates for the disabled people with disabilties contend [I'd go with "state" or "report" here, since you did contact one of the leading authorities on the ADA. Also, it's a bit slanted to call them an advocate "for people with disabilities," since they're a neutral organization advocating for correct interpretation and application of disability rights -- the ADA doesn't unlimitedly favor people with disabilities. I'd refer to them as advocates for disability law.] this accommodation is required by state and federal law and that all car dealers should have been doing this for a long time.

"Car dealerships are covered under the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act), so they have to accommodate people with disabilities," said Paula Pearlman, the deputy director of Disability Rights Legal Center, a national advocacy center based in Los Angeles.

Hand controls, which allow a disabled driver with a physical disability to attach handles on the steering wheel to accelerate and stop a vehicle, cost about $2,000 to permanently install, but cost very little to temporarily set up.

"It costs nothing for a dealership to have these on hand and install when requested," Pearlman said.

At issue in the complaint against Boch was whether the dealer violated the state's disability rights statute by not offering "reasonable accommodation" to Betsy Pillsbury, who is confined to a wheelchair [DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST SAY THAT? - e] uses a wheelchair. Pillsbury, according to the April 2005 Commission Against Discrimination filing, was only seeking temporary installation of the devices, while Boch employees thought she wanted the devices permanently installed for the test-drive, "which indisputably would permanently alter the vehicle," an MCAD motion reads.

But in the same motion, Boch maintains "even the requirement to make available and install portable hand controls constitutes an undue burden on its business and is therefore not a reasonable accommodation."

Nine months later, however, Pillsbury dropped her complaint after Boch agreed to offer the temporary devices, commission chairman Sullivan said. Pillsbury, who ended up buying a car at a different dealership, could not be reached for comment.

Hand control devices, which allow disabled drivers to press the gas pedal and the brake without using their feet, work on a single-lever push or pull system. They can also be helpful in engaging turn signals, windshield wipers and adjusting mirrors.

There are dozens of other adjustments and modifications that can be made to a vehicle to accommodate disabled operators, including adding a wheelchair lift and installing swivel seats so it is easier to enter and exit the car.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination received 3,198 complaints in 2006, a decrease of 200 complaints from 2005. Greater awareness of the laws is the likely reason.
Almost one-fifth of the cases - 19.7 percent - involve charges of discrimination based on disability. Complaints about gender discrimination (18.9 percent) and racial discrimination (18.5 percent) followed. Other complaints focused on retaliation (12.6 percent), age (9.6 percent) and national origin (7.8 percent).

Those who feel victimized by discrimination can call
MCAD at (617) 994-6000. Complaints should be filed at MCAD's office, located in Room 601 of the McCormack Building.

(Robert Boismier contributed to this story.)
Published on Mon, Sep 10, 2007

Tags: disabled disability,
accessibility, laws, cars

I e-mailed them to comment on this, and I provided the following references:

The American Psychological Association article listed above alsocontains links to articles about nonbiased reporting related tosexuality/gender and race/ethnicity.


Sara said...

that paper needs work. end of story.

Eric Jay said...

I don't disagree that BostonNOW could have used different language... but I'm wondering who decides what the "preferred" terminology is.

I saw a patient this morning who left me a voice mail over the weekend. His exact words (I just replayed the message to be sure) were, "I'm disabled, and confined to a wheelchair. Is the building I'm meeting you at handicap accessible?"

Apparently, disabled, confined to a wheelchair, and handicap are his preferred terms, right?

I've also had patients refer to themselves as "cripples" to me. That's a term I would avoid using, and even makes me somewhat uncomfortable to hear. If that's how they self-describe, though... I don't think I'm in a position to suggest alternative terms.

I don't ask to be confrontational, I just always figured that preferred terminology was a personal choice... and I've been curious how a universal preference comes about, and where someone like a BostonNOW editor would go to find it.

eeka said...

Oh, people definitely use those terms to self-describe. "Crip" and "gimp" especially are used as reappropriated terms by activists, but I don't think are appropriate to call a stranger, yanno?

I definitely know people, usually ones with an acquired disability, who are in a stage of their recovery where they feel "confined" and will use this term. And like you, I wouldn't tell them their terminology is "wrong," but if it was someone I knew well, I might point out how striking the term is, and I'd also probably want to listen to their experiences and hopefully could be a source of encouragement for gradually moving toward a more accepting and healthier identity.

More commonly, I think people have absorbed these terms from others around them and haven't taken the opportunity to really think about who and what they are. I've worked with plenty of people who've been told all their lives they were "disturbed" or "defective" and didn't understand that these are pejorative terms -- they thought these terms were just what they were, just like how someone is tall or Canadian. They definitely weren't using these because they had reappropriated them.

I don't think there are any universal terms, but there are the terms that are preferred by disability activists and people in the rehab movement. Those are listed in the links I provided. I haven't yet encountered a person with a disability or a family member who objects to people-first language, but many many people prefer it.

Language is always shifting and changing. Most of the terms that are now offensive slurs were at one point the current term used by people advocating inclusion and rehabilitation. I think that by keeping up with the current language and making an effort to use it, we show that we're affiliated with the inclusion and rehabilitation movements, rather than with, say, car dealers who don't take the time to learn how the ADA affects their business.

Eric Jay said...

Thanks for your helpful reply! =)

david mcmahon said...

G'day Eeka,

I can see both sides of the debate. I see your point, but maybe the BostonNOW editing team haven't got an updated policy of preferred terms.

Very interesting post on subtle distinctions and why they will always be relevant.



Anonymous said...

Enough about the language. Are any of you impressed with the fact that one more barrier has been torn down? Disabled people who need and can use hand controls can now take a car for a test drive!

more cowbell said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I think language like disabled people, blind people, deaf people, what it does is reduce the person to this one thing.

I would say to "anonymous" that yes, of course the important thing is a barrier has been broken, however, the language takes ONE attribute of a person, and turns into a defining label. A person who happens to be a parent, a dispatcher, a student, a redhead, a dog lover, a football fan, tall, blue-eyed, married, oh yeah, and deaf -- deaf is just one thing, not an encompassing defining label. The language puts forward a very shallow image of that person, with all the assumptions that go with it. Language is important, i think.

eeka said...

Isn't it interesting though how "deaf" hasn't taken a nominal form? We don't have any way of saying "there's a deaf standing over there." Is this just a random accident of language, or does it maybe speak to how some disabilities are more and less stigmatized? We do have ways of saying there's "a schizophrenic" standing over there.

Even without nominal forms though, there are ways we differentiate (consciously or unconsciously) between a disability that's part of someone and a disability that IS someone. I just about smacked a coworker today who kept saying to a client "because you're mentally ill..." No, dammit, she has mental illness.