BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Our society is on the path to random chaos because our willingness to make exceptions for people has morphed into never-ending feelings of grievance and expectations of entitlement.
Let me illustrate:
While earning my master’s in special education, I became aware that the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act gave equal protection to children with disabilities.
This important piece of legislation opened doors for untold millions of children who would have otherwise been trapped in special facilities for the profoundly disabled despite their capacity for learning in a general education setting.
Yet what started out as a policy of accommodation and modification for students who were intellectually, if not altogether physically, capable of learning has transformed into a general education culture of adjustments for practically any student who requests them.
High school in spring means certified teachers spend days on end reading aloud to eligible students every question on college entrance tests such as the ACT. Many taking the test get double the time to complete such assessments.
This is not limited to special education. Almost every public school teacher manages a cornucopia of special seating arrangements, read-aloud exams, extended time for work, and endless opportunities for students to keep turning in work and tests until all the questions are right. Administrators strongly encourage such measures to boost student performance.
All students are tracked toward college, but many can’t deal with the work if they get there. Some of them, I’ve witnessed, will fight dumbfounded professors who can’t understand why students are lodging academic complaints against them for not allowing assignments to be handed in over and over again until the grade is an “A.”
One day, professors may be required to accommodate them, as I suppose employers will be, because it seems that people with any issue, especially if it can be classified as medical, expect to be given special consideration -- sometimes to the point of absurdity.
For instance, an Oregon police officer who was fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off duty recently filed a $6 million lawsuit against his former employer, alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Because alcoholism is recognized as a disability under the ADA, the ex-officer claims he shouldn’t have been dismissed even though he had not sought treatment for the disease before the incident. One of his lawyers told The Associated Press: “Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties.”
The courts will have to decide whether his case has merit, but the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a fact sheet describing a similar example in which an alcoholic is justly fired.
I’m not suggesting that alcoholism can’t be managed -- people who overcome it can be safe, productive members of society. I am, however, saying that it’s not right to claim a disease as the reason for behavior that puts others in harm’s way and then object to being kept out of similar situations in the future.
But that’s not who we are as a country. We want whatever upper hand we can get. We each believe we are deserving of special privilege and it hardly matters if it’s not good for us, or others, in the long run, or if it comes at the expense of those who are legitimately in need.
Apache ASL Trails, a subsidized housing complex in Tempe, Ariz., designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing senior citizens, is under attack from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for, yes, favoring deaf and hard-of-hearing people over applicants with non-hearing-related disabilities or no disabilities at all.
Who raised a stink to HUD because someone didn’t get a placement in the care facility? It’s anyone’s guess. But as a result, The New York Times reports, Apache ASL Trails and other residential facilities designed for people with complex medical needs are worried that any federal money they accept to serve such unique communities will come with the possibility of being labeled as discriminatory to the healthy.
If any of this seems ridiculous or wrongheaded, you’d better get used to it. We’re now living in Accommodation Nation, a place where the only people who won’t get special favors are those who speak out against the notion that everyone is entitled to special treatment.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group