Originally posted to the political science class blog at the Art Institute of Indianapolis, a short essay from the history and anthropology instructor, as background to the ADA and a challenge to consider how law and heart work together.
Discrimination – that is, treating people differently based on factors that are not relevant to a decision – has long been considered unjust in our society. We have a variety of laws that seek to end discriminatory actions. You can’t refuse to do business with a person just because of their skin color, or refuse to hire someone because of their gender, and so on.
In World Civilization class, many people are surprised to find out how recent some of these laws are. The right of women to vote is less than one hundred years old. The rights of people of color seemed to be guaranteed in 1868, but it was only in the 1960s that any sort of effective enforcement began to be accomplished.
These are provisions we’ve become accustomed to. Over time, we learn that other measures are discriminatory. Thus we have recent interest in equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity for advancement, and even the effects of long-term debt such as student loans.
Among the recent laws is the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990, amended 2008). It was intended to relieve both systemic discrimination, such as people being unable to physically get into a building, as well as to end unequal choices. One of the goals of this law was to get what is one of the largest groups of unemployed people into the work force. But as this article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/upshot/fake-cover-letters-expose-discrimination-against-disabled.html reports, a recent test has shown that people who reported a disability were rejected for jobs at a much higher rate than others. This test is similar to others from the past, such as those using people with similar bank and family backgrounds but different skin colors or names to identify discrimination.A lot of questions swirl through my mind on reading this. Why do we seem to not want to judge each other as equals? Can a law really change things?
It’s understandable that some changes take time. When a building does not have an elevator, or there are anywhere from one to thirty steps at the entrance, that’s often a difficult thing to change. But just last week I was in a newly-renovated building that had a ramp that was way too steep to get up. It’s difficult to sit by quietly while some people say that all you need is motivation or willpower when such an obstacle confronts you—especially when those people know nothing of what you’re up against.
And then I think of the wider world we live in. Generations grow up in refugee camps, and have no hope. As I finish writing this, we have word that the Paris branch of my family are safe. But what of others? Does the bell toll for all? So this question to you this week is, “What can each of us do to end discrimination, when the world is so large and there are so many differences?”