RAND PAUL AND TEMPTING FATE
By Brooke Ellison
Rand Paul’s defeat of Trey Grayson in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Kentucky represents one of the most noteworthy examples of the Tea Party’s electoral, and possibly future legislative, influence. The list of Paul’s statements opposing fundamental civil rights is as lengthy as it is appalling, and his electoral success thus far stands as both an affront and threat to literally all Americans, and especially those whose rights are already either infringed upon or at peril. In an impromptu interview last week, Paul cast this threat into pronounced relief with his repudiation of the necessity of the 20-year old Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a sweeping piece of federal civil rights legislation designed to promote access and involvement for people with all physical disabilities, so that they may better live in and interact with their communities. The ADA, which was passed during George H. W. Bush’s administration, applies to providing access to public buildings, accommodations in the workforce, and equal opportunity in education and employment: basic civil rights that ought to be afforded to everyone. As was first reported by Think Progress, when asked about his level of support for the federally enacted ADA, Rand Paul responded that even access to a public building should be left in the hands of local governments to decide. Further, he attempted to argue that making accommodations and modifications so that people with disabilities could access their communities or jobs was not, “fair to the business owner”.
Perhaps Dr. Paul is unaware of some aspects of fairness, and perhaps it isn’t his fault, as it is difficult to understand fairness correctly when one comes from such a position of privilege. In September of 1990, when I was 11 years old, I was hit by a car while walking home from my first day of seventh-grade. That accident left me paralyzed from my neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. There was no requirement of fairness on the day of my accident, and I have since never looked for one. Moving forward with my life after my accident – graduating from Harvard in 2000 and 2004, running for New York State Senate, founding a non-profit organization, and now pursuing my Ph.D. – has not been with an eye toward fairness but, instead, toward the desire to put myself in the best position to do the most good for the greatest number of people. Life is often not about what is fair, but instead about what is right, and what is just.
My life in the 20 years since my accident has been lived entirely within the context of the ADA. Were it not for this landmark piece of legislation, I would venture to say that many of the opportunities that have been afforded to me might never have been. Is it fair to tell people who struggle each day with the demands of a physical disability that they can be denied entrance into a public building? Is it fair to strip the dignity of employment from people who, through no fault of their own, have already been robbed of so much? Is it fair to lead people to believe that they represent an inferior, dehumanized, and expendable part of the population that can be cast aside because they are not worth the investment? By denying the necessity of the ADA, Dr. Paul not only answers “yes” to each of these, but does so with an utter disregard to the very virtue he invokes. When we fail to understand the source of fairness does not lie on a balance sheet but, instead, in how we care for each other, we also fail to understand what it means to be a member of a society –what it means to be human.
However, beyond this basic human understanding, Dr. Paul is simply wrong in his facts. Citing the economic hardship placed on small businesses required to make modifications for accessibility, Paul inaccurately represents the legislation. The fact of the matter is that, built into this legislation are two protections to help small businesses, and thus help everyone, in the transition to greater accessibility. First is Section 44 of the IRS tax code which provides a tax credit of up to $5000 for small businesses with revenues less than $1 million per year for barrier removal and alterations to improve accessibility. And, second is Section 190 of the IRS tax code which provides a tax deduction of up to $15,000 per year for similar modifications. Finally, as the ADA went into effect in January of 1992, structures that predate this enactment are waived from accessibility requirements. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49.7 million Americans live with at least one physical disability, and this number is sure to grow as our population ages. It seems a far greater burden on small businesses to deny these potential patrons and employees access than to pave the way for them.
Rand Paul is a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist performing eye surgery for 17 years on people, many of whom likely benefit from the protections in the ADA. Precisely how can he, as a doctor, justify treating his patients in his office while he, as a politician, advocates denying them access to their lives beyond that office? In the guise of protecting individual liberty from interference from a Federal government that, as the describes, “has overstepped its limited powers as stipulated in the Constitution”, Paul has disdainfully rejected the basic civil rights of those whose rights most desperately need our concern. Paul can advocate as loudly as he might want about removing government from people’s lives, but he can be certain that fate does not listen to such a claim. In fact, fate listens to no one, and is the paramount pursuer of equal opportunity. In calling a wheelchair access ramp or elevator or modification “unfair to the business owner”, he can only hope that he hasn’t tempted fate so far as to one day be forced to use them.
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