Dispelling The myth that plagues older Americans with Disabilities:
As I have interviewed more and more disabled seniors, I have discovered that there is another group of the Bravest Americans that deserves whatever they may need to continue living their lives in an active and engaged way. This is the surprising number of people working ‘with a disability’, as they are classified. They are everywhere, and despite the myth that confronts every disabled older american applying for a new job that says these people are incapable of working reliably, they are among the best, most reliable employees everywhere. I was chatting with a trainer who has worked at my gym since it opened. He is always working with clients in need of rehabilitation for a number of reasons, and his acumen led me to ask him to help with my hip rehabilitation. He asked if I had a prescription for PT from my surgeon. I did and gladly showed it to him. After reading it, he told me that he knew exactly what would help, and judging from my current level of ability, he first asked if I was willing to do certain things, then he brought over a range of options to try. He was so thorough and professional that I was drawn to ask him why he wasn’t working as a PT. He said that it was a long story, and my tendency to dig prompted him to tell me his story.
It seems that in 1997, he was in his 3rd year of his master’s program, where he was maintaining a 3.2 GPA, The university refused to allow him to graduate because he had a ‘learning disability’, which one certainly can’t tell from his current professionalism. I was shocked/angry/overwhelmed/ etc. all at once. Before I could say something, he said that at the time, he was young and totally unprepared for this action, and not having the financial resources nor the confidence to hire an attorney, after he recovered from a period of severe depression, he moved on. Naturally, I reminded him that their behavior was not just outrageous, but illegal and that the ACLU loves challenging behavior like this, he just said I know, I know, I know… I am not through with this situation yet, but my point is that he lives with a disability, has all his adult life, and now that he is over 50, instead of being too impaired to properly help people at the gym, he is the ‘elder statesman’ of the trainer set, and is always being sought out for his wisdom.
I realize that this is only one situation, but I assure you there are more — many many more, and that, along with the challenges we all face, is the story we will tell in our films. Can you imagine what it must take every day for him to walk into my gym in Hollywood, California, where youth and beauty are the currency in demand and knowing that this is not his crowd and that many of the patrons look upon him as that ‘funny little-old-man’ who works with old people. I’ll tell you this, there is not one trainer there that works harder or is more supportive to their clients than he. Man, talk about self-esteem. I am in awe.
Something in his story is common to most stories of people working with a disability, that is that they (we) tend to ‘over-perform’ as a result of both a fear that if we don’t do more and better than our peers, we may be judged as incapable of handling our jobs and our genuine desire to do our best. The reality is that in many of today’s companies, promotion is so competitive and disabled people are being constantly watched for that chink in their armour allowing someone else to take advantage of their ‘humanity’. The passing of the ADA and its updates was supposed to eliminate this kind of situation, but people are people, and continue to take advantage when they can. Of course, in a growing number of companies, they pride themselves by the fairness of their workplace. Having been on both sides of this one, I am being as real as I possibly can. As several public officials have told me, the biggest challenge of the ADA is enforcement. They all agreed that having the number of personnel necessary to enforce it properly is completely unaffordable. Sure, building inspection does a relatively good job with making sure current construction has the access piece and restroom pieces down pat. They also have standards for interior doors, handles and hall widths regulated well. Sadly, I could walk you around a few brand new buildings in my city where the contractor’s wallets have TRUMPED city regulations. Money seems to cause more problems than it cures much of the time. Funny how that is.