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LaFave shouldn’t cite ADA to protest order to wear masks

Bouquets and Barbs

Barb: This is a revised version of a letter I recently sent to Michigan state Rep. Beau LaFave regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and mask mandates. I have not heard back from Mr. LaFave as of yet. I have added to this version of it to include my personal experience of navigating life with a disability and why the ADA should not be used to avoid wearing a mask, to protect others from COVID-19.

Dear Rep. LaFave,

I am not one of your constituents, but I wanted to write to you as a fellow American with a disability.

The ADA should not be used as a reason to not wear a mask. Those of us who live with a disability ourselves or have a child with a disability are well versed in protecting our rights and asking for accommodations as needed. They do not issue a card you can wave like a magic wand that relieves you from the burden of asking for what you need in schools, university, workplace etc. Using the ADA to say you shouldn’t have to wear a mask because you don’t want to, or don’t want to explain why you can’t, takes protection away from others who are far more vulnerable and who could potentially lose their lives because some are too selfish to protect them. Michael Hickson, a Black disabled man, died from COVID-19 in Austin, Texas, after doctors charged with his care declined to provide food, water and treatment based on a “quality of life” decision.

I have been legally blind since I was 19, started college before the ADA went into effect, and worked for 25 years after I earned my degree. I am grateful for the ADA, but living with an invisible disability versus a visible one has required me to regularly advocate for myself.

Your suggestion that the mask mandate violates ADA because people will have to explain why they can’t wear a mask gives a pass to people who CAN wear a mask but don’t want to, whether or not it applies to their disability. This is a blatant misappropriation of the ADA and insulting and offensive to the disabled community who have NEVER been able to use the ADA in this way to make their lives any easier.

Imagine having a VISIBLE disability and being met at the door of an airport with a wheelchair because the ADA says they have to accommodate all disabled persons with no regard to the fact that your legs are fine and you don’t need a wheelchair but rather would like assistance carrying your luggage. Or if you carry a white cane, they insist you use a wheelchair when really you just need someone to walk with you to the gate.

The ADA protects us from revealing a disability when applying for a job qualified to do, but once hired, the person with a disability has to explain the accommodations they need on the job as required by the ADA — an awkward and uncomfortable situation that makes one seem to be dishonest, leading them to have to “prove” they are an asset despite being qualified and hired. This versus being honest about having a disability and risking not being hired and not being able to prove one way or another that it was because of having a disability. The ADA was there to protect my right to employment despite my disability, but it did nothing to protect me from advocating for myself as an American with a disability. And realistically, how could it?

I wear a mask every time I go out in public. Obviously, my vision does not impede my breathing. I do agree with you that this will be yet ANOTHER thing the disabled community will have to navigate. I am CERTAIN more will abuse your intention than those who will need to use it for legitimate reasons, similar to the many with “emotional support animals” that abuse a system created to make others more independent with trained service animals. Please consider and be responsible with your platform. Those of us who are able to use our voice in the disabled community have to use it wisely as we are speaking for a wide range of people with varied ability and vulnerability.

Thank you for your time.

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