“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Not really a new way to discriminate

Last night we had another meeting in Redlands Ca. relating to a group home for medically fragile, developmentally disabled adults. A group of neighbors to the future home were there and they claimed their major cause for concern was that the group home developer represented himself as adhering to the homeowners association agreement, and then changed the home by putting doors on the sides of the house so the wheelchair bound residents could exit the building in case of fire. They were appalled that he would be dishonest in this manner.

Now I agree that he may have done this, not be entirely honest. He may have signed the homeowners' agreement with the full knowledge that he was going to make alterations to the home, and that was not entirely truthful. But I also sat there amazed at the people who were using this argument to discriminate against persons with developmental disabilities. They spoke of property values going down, and how the neighborhood would be devalued, of how their children would be unsafe and how the house would be poorly kept all due to the placement of the home in the community. They even had the nerve to ask whether people would be "peeing in their bushes."

As a boy, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood of Southern New Jersey. There were very few African Americans or Hispanics, or other persons who weren't white who lived in my neighborhood. I can clearly recall hearing adults talk about how the property values would go down, how the homes would not be properly cared for, how they feared for their children should anyone other than a white person fill any vacant house in the neighborhood. I can even remember people speaking about an unwritten agreement that homes would not be sold to anyone other than a white person. This is correctly referred to as bigotry or racism.

Yet, although there were those in the meeting from groups who have experienced significant bigotry and racism, they didn't connect their behavior to that of others who experienced discrimination.

Now imagine I developed a homeowners' association, and somehow we were able to establish a rule about homes that would somehow prohibit persons of ethnicity X from living in the neighborhood. However, a person of ethnicity X wants to live in the neighborhood. In order to live in the neighborhood, the person of ethnicity X comes in and makes the change required for him to live in the neighborhood, and the homeowners' association comes down against him for breaking the homeowners' association's rules. Can you imagine the charges of racism or bigotry? Those charges would be justified, unless the homeowners' association reflected on their rules and said, "We have made a huge mistake. We didn't intend our rules to be discriminatory against group X." If, however, that same homeowners association said, "We don't care, we have a homeowners' association and those are the rules," we would begin to wonder about their motives.

Well, the homes in question do not allow for particular types of modifications. In this case, the doors which were added to the sides of the house, to allow for the exit of the wheelchair bound residents were against the homeowners' rules. So in effect, persons having the types of disabilities of those who will live in the group home are excluded from the neighborhood. It was countered that the backside of the house is wheelchair accessible. The association rules indicated, however, that no ramps were permitted to be added to the front of the house. As one person commented, "If I am going to spend 500K for a home, I'm going in the front door."

Can you see how this is a civil rights issue? I can write seemingly innocuous rules, which are largely to protect the aesthetics of the neighborhood, which in reality can be discriminatory against a particular group of people. Not people who want to paint their house purple, but people who want to go into the front door of their house, or be able to get out in case of a fire.

By the way, to my knowledge, there was only one pastor of a church who attended any of the meetings, and he is the parent of a son with a disability.

What ever happened to doing justice?


1 comment:

Josh Hiraoka said...

Whenever I hear stories such as this, I am really saddened. Many people living in today’s society, still hold this discriminatory view, and think only about themselves. They don’t realize that individuals with disabilities should be given the same rights and privileges that everyone else possesses. Instead, many ignorant people feel that they would be “bending over backwards” to accommodate anyone with a special needs. It seems like the root of many cases of discrimination, such as this, the dehumanizing of the people occurs, where people turn others into an “it,” because of their disability
What many people need, is a shift in the way they view people with disabilities, which is to view them as equal human beings. People need to become more educated on disabled people and to realize that being different is not less. If that were the case, then no one would be worth anything, since we are all different. I am not more human than my brother, and he is no more human than me.
To help the general public open their eyes to individuals with disabilities, there should be more opportunities for the disables to be included as the members of the community they are. In expanding people’s understanding, and learning from individuals with various disabilities, surely we can all become more human.