I am an American with a disability. I am, like every citizen, attempting to survive COVID-19, pandemic life, and election havoc.
In a previous commentary, I shared my service animal, Truffle, and the 30th anniversary of the American Disability Act. Sheltering in place with Truffle next to me, contemplating events surrounding our elections, I recall a distraught phone call I made to the ADA hotline. I turned to the hotline troubled and upset over negative, mocking attitudes regarding myself and my service animal. A wise woman answered and listened patiently while I cried out about my experience. She shared the law. Then, she shared a truth. She said, “I hear you, and I understand. But attitude, no matter how hurtful, cannot be legislated.”
I’ve watched videos of Trump supporters being attacked, beaten, and intimidated verbally and physically while simply returning to their hotel rooms. I’ve read books recounting honest experiences in modern days documenting racial prejudice that exists. It was hard for me to fathom that such prejudice still exists as it is outside of my personal experience. Nonetheless, recent events are bringing extreme ideologies to the forefront. Most currently, I watched what was supposed to be peaceful marches upon the capital unfold as violent.
I think it is clear that the attempt to shame and belittle a position has no good effect, even if I find it repulsive. To me, it is obvious, that only brings anger and results in violence. I see this coming from all sides. COVID-19 hasn’t helped communication either. Agitation and frustration are a mere heartbeat away from expression in the most relaxed and easy-going of personalities.
While no one has the right to physically harm another, I have to reckon with the truth that people have the right to their opinions. They have the right to vote, and they will vote for someone. Extreme positions do not, as opinions, in and of themselves, negate that right.
I suggest that the answer to these painful realities lies in a different arena. It is one that looks behind the face and considers the cause. It is one that takes tact, patience, love, and the willingness to have your own position challenged.
In his memoir, Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson tells of a white prison guard that subjected Mr. Stevenson to humiliation, a Black attorney entering to meet with a Black client. He also shared that in time and with patience, that guard reached out to his client and became a friendly presence to them both.
For me, as a disabled person, I had to take a look at what was upsetting the public when I went out with my service animal. News of extreme lawsuits was irritating people. All manner of animals were being presented as service animals by all kinds of people. And, a self-entitled attitude amongst angry disabled folk was hurting us. The pendulum had swung to an opposite extreme. Finding some relief from being a source of embarrassment and generally disregarded, the disabled pushed back too hard and unnecessarily. Many without disabilities took advantage of the law to mock and misuse it.
In 2010, there were revisions to the law that tightened definitions. Experientially for me, those revisions gave the public the security it needed to assist the disabled person and a few tools of empowerment. Those revisions and the results of receiving a ticket for having an animal in a no pet area helped me to find the tools I needed to move freely in society, for the most part. I confess that I still take the road least likely to be resistant whenever possible. I have no desire for conflict.
I was truly hurt by the events that lead to the call to the ADA hotline. But, the facts were that I was not made to leave. I was made so uncomfortable I left. I couldn’t sue or file a complaint based on bad attitudes. In the same way, it seems to me that we are trying to accomplish too much through politics.
I am a Christian and want everyone to know my savior the way I do. But, even God gives us freedom of choice. Who am I to even think that I should take that away? I can share my faith. I can demonstrate and practice my beliefs. But, I can’t force them on someone. And, I certainly can’t beat anyone into submission. It is the same with my opinions and political perspectives.
I love God and know that only he can tame pain and touch the heart in such a way as to mend its hurt. But, I can help by aiming to show the love that I have received. In the end, I vote for love.
In conclusion, I hope we can all benefit from that call to the ADA hotline in which words of wisdom were shared. “Attitude cannot be legislated.”
Kellye Chapman lives in Carson City.