Thursday, May 04, 2006

Carrots, hammers, clout and even fun

Everyone talks about the 80-20 rule. You know, out of any group, 20 percent of any group will actually do something, while the other 80 percent won't do much, if anything at all. If there are 54 million people with disabilities in the U.S. (and that's not agreed by everyone), then you might think there are nearly 11 million active crips. What a glorious notion! It's not remotely true though. In my home state of California, the population is about 33 million. Taking a conservative track, let's say about 14 percent of those folks have a disability. Works out, um, to about 4,620,000 people with disabilities. Following the 80-20 rule, we should have nearly 650,000 active crips. Maybe we should consider a 95-5 rule. That would be 231,000. The other day I saw a newsletter from a statewide disability organization (that, granted, ain't what it used to be) reporting that its membership was about 650 -- 650, less than one frigging thousand. OK, full disclosure: I am a lapsed member of said organization. I have some issues with them. But I expect to re-up one of these days because its goals are worthwhile.

I worry about our ability to organize ourselves so that we can wield influence on legislators, policy makers and government entities. If the non-disabled world doesn't see us as a constituency with voting power or economic power, we won't be taken seriously. We've managed to put legislation on the books nationally and in many states, but getting implementation and enforcement is a different story. We need clout. We need number and activism to have clout.

Now we get a dribble of lawsuits that opponents used to create a hostile backlash against greedy lawyers and lawsuit happy crips, who often are portrayed as gullible dupes of those greed lawyers.

By and large we have failed to organize ourselves in sustainable action groups. Filing lawsuits has produced a mixed bag of results.

And that leads me to Mary Johnson's perceptive blog entry today, riffing on things we in the United States disability rights movement might learn from our peers in Britain. I like this particular approach the SCOPE group organized.

Make it a campaign.

Make it fun.

In my home town, the local ILC has been developing what they call "Blue Ribbon Week" during which staff and volunteers try to find businesses that are providing access, or making a real effort to do so. Such places are recognized publicly by the ILC. Businesses that fail to measure up, or which resist barrier removal, are given notice of what they have to do to get into compliance. They get follow-up visits. The ILC has not yet worked out an effective hammer to use on this miscreants, but that's developing. I like the carrot-and-hammer approach. It may not slake the thirst of some crusaders for blood, but it may advance the cause of access and inclusion.

Heaven knows, it's time to do something to ignite some excitement and momentum. And fun, too.

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