Just A Little Bit Easier

By Anne C. Woodlen

In the first episode of the fourth season of West Wing, the President is campaigning in the Midwest. Toby, Josh and Donna miss the motorcade and spend twenty hours working their way back to Washington. They end up in a hotel bar with a man who has just taken his daughter to visit Notre Dame.

The man talks about how exciting it is to take his daughter to visit colleges, how he and his wife both work, how proud he is of his pianist son, and how he worries about the stock marketís impact on the fund for his kidsí education. ďI donít mind that itís hard,Ē he says. ďIt should be hard . . . but it should be just a little bit easier.Ē

I find myself remembering that line a lot these days: It should be just a little bit easier.

Five months ago, I filed a complaint against my apartment building management company for discriminating against me because I am multiply disabled. I filed the complaint with the NYS Div. of Human Rights (DHR), which cross-filed it with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In a matter of weeks, DHR sent me the management companyís response: they conceded. Now, for months, the investigator at DHR has been telling that ďtodayĒ or ďthis weekĒ Iíll get DHRís final disposition papers.

Tonight the DHR regional director returned my phone call of two weeks ago. I asked her why I havenít gotten the papers yet. She said theyíre with the regional HUD investigator. When I asked for the name of the HUD person, the DHR director refused to give it to me.

I complained, the respondent conceded, a HUD investigator still has the papers, and I am not allowed to follow up with her or even know her name.

It should be just a little bit easier.

Last weekend, Centroís paratransit service, Call-a-Bus, changed their scheduling policy without telling anyone, so I had to stay home on Saturday. Then I had to stay home on Sunday because the call-taker had made a mistake. When I asked to speak to her supervisor, she said she has none on the weekend. A twenty-something kid with about a yearís experience botches up a scheduled ride and thereís no grown-up around to straighten it out.

It does no good to complain to Centro because they always, without exception, decide in favor of themselves. You canít complain to the Office of Civil Rights at the Federal Transit Administration because their phone is answered by a tape recording. They donít return calls if they donít feel like it, so I spent the weekend home alone in my two-room apartment.

It should be just a little bit easier.

The DHR decided a complaint against me, but I contend that their reasoning was wrong. They denied my complaint on the grounds that I am receiving the same treatment as all other people who are disabled. Thatís not the point.

The purpose of disability law is not to ensure that all disabled people have an equally miserable lifestyle. It is to make sure that disabled people receive necessary accommodations so that they have the same lifestyle as able people. DHR compared apples to apples; they were supposed to compare apples to the entire fruit bowl.

So now I have to appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court, which means getting in my wheelchair, traveling by substandard paratransit service, going to the fifth floor of the courthouse to find the law citation, going to the third floor to file as an indigent person, then going to the second floor to get a filing index number.

It should be just a little bit easier.

Iím 61 years old and disabled. My employer has ordered me to perform the same work as an able 19-year-old. I work a three-hour shift, for which I have to commit three hours to transportation via the aforementioned substandard paratransit service.

I donít mind that itís hard, but it should be just a little bit easier.

All federal departments have a complaint process, but they provide no accommodation for disabled people who are filing complaints. I need help to file complaints and appeals, and there is none.

Around 1995, a study was done of peopleís legal needs in New York State. It was determined that about 79% of legal needs were being metóunless you were poor. Only about 12% of poor peopleís legal needs were being met. And the estimates are that now, in 2008, that percentage is lower.

It shouldnít be quite this hard.

Thirty years ago, a legal aid attorney told me that the Religious Right decided that one way to prevent abortions was to de-fund legal aid, so they lobbied Congress and got the legal aid budget cut by one-third. The money has never been put back.

When I tried to start a tenantsí association in the federally subsidized apartment building where I lived, the manager posted notices that people werenít to speak to me. Thatís a violation of federal law. The employees in the assisted living program would pull out their radios and notify the manager of my movements through the building. Thatís scary.

When I called legal aid, they told me that if I got an eviction notice, they could help me but other than that, they didnít have enough staff. My tenantís rights could be violated by management with absolute impunity because there was no money for a lawyer to protect me.

It should be just a little bit easier.

As Iíve tried to work a problem through the Medicaid system, Iíve repeatedly been told by government bureaucrats that if I donít like the decisions they make then I can go hire a lawyer.

No I canít. If I had enough money to hire a lawyer and was receiving Medicaid, then Iíd be engaging in Medicaid fraud.

I donít mind that itís hard. It should be hard. Life is not for sissies, and hard work and tough challenges build character. Mental and emotional muscles get good exercise conquering hard trials.

But it should be just a little bit easier.

Back to the MarkBlum Report

It is always a far better thing
to have peace than to be right.
But, when it is not,
or when all else fails

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