Ed Bell - ADA Interview
"The last thing we really want to do is -- not only do you have to adjust to your disability, but now you need to sell your farm and move to town." Ed Bell says farming is statistically one of the most dangerous occupations. Although farmers are used to adapting to adversity, occupational injuries can be life-changing. Ed was a working farmer in Hagerstown, Indiana when was interviewed in 2009. "I joined the disability community in 1983 with spinal cord injury," he explains. Ed was also doing consulting work for Breaking New Ground, a Purdue University project working with farmers and ranchers with acquired disabilities. He was on the board of the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities and a member of the ADA-Indiana Steering Committee.
Ed reminisces that Hagerstown, where he grew up, was a "one-factory town." The owner of the automobile factory was Ralph Teetor, a blind man (who is know as the inventor of cruise control). Because "most everybody's boss in the town directly or indirectly was a person with a disability," people thought Ed's accident at age 21 was unfortunate, but they expected him to carry on with his life.
In anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the ADA, Ed talked about his recollections and reflections concerning the landmark law. The ADA has "provided more of an opportunity for people to pull their own weight or pull the weight they can. For instance, if you stack too many barriers up in front of someone, the odds are they're going to be literally a burden not only to themselves but to society." However, he expressed concern that the law could be unfairly taken advantage of. "People with disabilities can be their own worst enemies. We need clear definitions and not allow abuse of a great law and a civil right to hinder those who really need it."
Ed sells strawberries and offers berry picking on his farm. It makes sense to him to provide ADA accommodations for his customers with disabilities. "As a business person, I understand, people are like water. They take the path of least resistance. As a businessman, why would I want to create barriers for my customers?" As part of his work with Breaking New Ground, Ed says, "we've gone in Indiana to every county courthouse, every library (in rural counties anyway); every fair grounds, every cooperative extension service. We've had workshops for even churches, which technically are exempt from the ADA."
Increased architectural accessibility has been enormously important, he says. But when the old wooden churches with the wooden steps were designed, it wasn't their fault, he adds. At that time, "people like me didn't survive. We had a place in their church -- it was buried behind it." "Now, we're in the community, make room for us or bear our burden. Because if you don't bear our burden or if we don't allow us to carry our own weight or pull what weight we can, you're going to have to bear our burden.”
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