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Discrimination Still Exists–And Still Hurts
08 Sep
2012
By 2020
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By Randy Pierce

Most of us at one time or another have probably been excluded from a conversation, activity, or opportunity. It invariably causes hurt feelings. Sometimes we may feel inferior, undesired, and unappreciated. Often anger and resentment are a natural response. I find this particularly true for those who care about me and witness discrimination against me.

We have friends here in NH who recently made headlines in a story of discrimination. Abby Duffy is a remarkable 8-year-old who also happens to be transitioning to her blindness with confident grace and skill. I’ve had the good fortune to spend a little time with her and her family and well understand the impressive life challenges they are managing. As such, I’m even more disappointed to have learned of a recent incident in which an employee at the Museum of New Hampshire History refused to admit her with her blind cane.

Federal Law clearly makes this illegal and the museum absolutely has a policy ensuring access to blind patrons with their canes and/or service animals. But because of the unacceptable lack of education of one staff member, this girl was exposed to the very real danger of being hurt. Her family aided her through the experience and the museum has since issued apologies, but what can lessen the risk of recurrence in the future?

Over the last 23 years in which I’ve dealt with my own blindness, I’m pleased to have observed tremendous increases in the awareness and education of the general public. I have been refused admittance for my cane, for my guide dog, and even for me because of my blindness, but fortunately for me I’m a strong-willed and reasonably communicative advocate for the education of someone discriminating against me. Despite this, I have not always been successful; the ugly reality of ignorance and occasional cruelty remain real parts of the challenge. Equally powerful has been the side of the law and specifically the ADA to educate people and encourage them to abide by the laws–and provide fines and other more powerful incentives for those who continue to refuse to reject discrimination in all its forms.

I’m sorry for what Abby experienced and I’m disappointed that I doubt it will be the last time she encounters this in her life. I’m hopeful that she and her parents will continue to improve their techniques of advocacy to minimize the impact of ignorance and discrimination. I am hopeful that the steady progress I’ve seen year to year enables more and more people to be sufficiently educated towards a world without any form of discrimination and less tolerant when it does occur.

My personal strategy for managing discrimination is to follow the steps below until the discrimination is retracted or until there is clearly no means to change the discriminator’s poor decision on that day:

  1. Ensure I have the full listening attention of the person attempting to discriminate against me.
  2. Explain to them why their action is illegal and have them repeat their intent to do it despite hearing that information.
  3. Request to speak to someone in a higher position of authority than they hold.
  4. Record their name and given reason for choosing to discriminate against me.
  5. Explain that I will necessarily follow up with legal authorities as a result of their illegal action.
  6. Remind myself to stay calm and polite no matter what approach they choose for managing their end of the discussion.
  7. Request anyone nearby able to witness the decision and obtain contact information if possible.
  8. Depart and immediately follow up with the many state and federal agencies appropriate to the situation.

There is no guarantee that any of this will change the emotional impact of the situation. There is no assurance things will change in the future, but ultimately the progress does seem real and with the continued efforts of everyone to advocate in all reasonable situations, there may be a time when discrimination is far less the challenge than it is today.

2 responses to “Discrimination Still Exists–And Still Hurts”

  1. Jean Foot says:

    As I slowly loose more and more of my sight, I slowly begin to recognise more and more discrimination. I will be gettina guide dog soon and have told the managers of my gym, that this will be happening soon and what is there policy’s on guide dogs. I’m just being polite in asking. They keep informing me that they have asked their headquarters and have not heard anything back. I keep asking and they keep telling me they are waiting for an answer. Now I know what to do, in case they don’t allow my dog. Thanks for the heads up Randy!

  2. Beth Potier says:

    I once went out to lunch with a blind colleague. The host at the restaurant tried to refuse her service because of her guide dog, then suggested that she leave her dog in her car while she ate!

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