Ask candidates their position on disabled, elderly voters

From Where I Sit: My column in Voices of Central Pennsylvania, September 2010

“Who will protect us against the protectors?” Plato (428-348 BC) asks. Over the years, in a variety of situations, it has become useful to question what happens when people put in charge of helping others help themselves.

The question came quickly to mind Aug. 5 when I arrived in my power chair at the Spats Restaurant on College Avenue only to realize that I could not enter because there was a series of stairs. The previous week marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) providing, among other things, wheelchair access to public accommodations. President George H. W. Bush said: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Here in State College, Pa., the shameful wall of exclusion continues in three prominent restaurants: Ye Olde College Diner, Baby’s, and Spats. They are exempted because they were constructed before the ADA went into effect. Today, access would be relatively easy because technology has developed attractive, low-cost ramps.

What makes my exclusion from Spats especially annoying is that the three people I was planning to see were disability professionals in town for a large autism conference—two of whom were reimbursed for the expense of their meals from their school’s budget on special education (that is, education for the disabled) and one of whom, an independent contractor with an autism patient who also has a physical disability, will be deducting the cost from her income tax.

There is arrogance here, especially profound because three individuals who are paid to help people in the disability community are unaware that it is immoral to patronize an establishment where disabled people cannot go. Imagine: when I was in the Civil Rights Movement and picketed a segregated whites only rrestaurant if I left the picket line and had lunch in the same restaurant I was picketing.

Only my insensitive disability workers did worse than that. They ate for free on subsidies paid for by federal and state funds—subsidies intended for the disabled. The federal tax code should be changed to prohibit deductions for otherwise legitimate expenses if the expenses are incurred in a restaurant that denies access to the disabled. The legislation might include a provision providing tax breaks when ramps are added to an establishment.

This is the first of my three-part series on candidates committed to bettering the lives of elderly and disabled voters here in Centre County or risk losing my personal endorsement. I am requesting that: Republican Rep. Glenn (“GT”) Thompson, the only candidate for federal office who as a physical therapist actually touched and helped heal disabled patients, promptly introduce legislation prohibiting tax deductions for disability professionals who purchase goods and services in non-accessible businesses.

Mike Pipe,T h o m p s o n ’s D e m o c r a t i c opponent, a former high level official in the Obama campaign and someone eager to prove that eventually the president will live up to his campaign promise(recorded on You Tube) to improve the lives of people with disabilities, request that the Obama Administration have the president sign an executive order prohibiting that federal funding for schools be used to reimburse special education teachers and others who incur expenses in non-accessible facilities. After all, Pipe agreed that Obama hasn’t lived up to his disability promises.

 Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who has been extremely helpful to constituents whose ability to breathe was being threatened by Obama Administration cutbacks in Medicare, use the powers of your current office in Congress to introduce legislation to ensure that our nation’s schools do not continue to subsidize discrimination.

Pat Toomey, the Lehigh-Valley-based Republican candidate for Senate, communicate. What are your views on Medicare, the controversial recess appointment of the new administrator of Medicare (an appointment whereby the president avoided Senate confirmation), and on the effects of competitive bidding on State College suppliers of oxygen, wheel chairs, and power chairs? In August, Toomey was 6 points ahead in polls that are unreliable because Nov. 2 is so far away. Centre County voted for Obama in the last presidential election and for Bush four years earlier. Toomey will answer.

Despite the fact that I am an Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat, the Obama Administration has done short-term damage to the disabled and elderly (especially those of us who are poor) that will have long-lasting negative effects, forcing people into expensive assistive living homes and needlessly robbing us of our independence.

I am focusing on candidates for federal office because the winner will vote on appropriations for Medicare and for medical equipment, may have direct oversight over Medicare and federal Medicaid policies, and will be dealing daily with Medicare and Social Security issues through constituent services offices. May the best man win regardless of political party.

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. Contact him at [email protected]. See This columnist would dearly appreciate the pro bono services of an attorney specializing in ADA and Medicare issues. Voices of Central Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 organization and as such does not endorse legislation. The views expressed here are solely those of the columnist.