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Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Reasons Rand Paul’s Beliefs are Bad for Business

20 years ago when George H Bush uttered the words, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” I doubt he envisioned that 20 years later his own son would be campaigning for a candidate eagerly wishing to rebuild them. Since Rand Paul can’t be bothered to clarify his position on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on his website and was apparently MIA during Monday’s ADA Anniversary festivities (no doubt a sign that Rand Paul’s PR people have managed to find his leash this week), here are his own words on the subject:

“Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that.

I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let them have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator.

And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.”

As a marketer in the disability industry, to say these statements are discouraging would be the understatement of the year. I could parse through the more offensive parts like the uses of the terms “handicaps” and “handicapped”. (Pssssst. We don’t say “handicapped” anymore.)

I could also point out the cringe-worthy phrase “allow for people with disabilities”. Allow for what? Allow for people with disabilities to gain access to public buildings? Allow for people with disabilities to have a voice? Allow for people with disabilities to exist in your world, Rand? This phrasing makes it sound like we’re considering shipping people with disabilities to another planet, and Rand thinks we should do “everything we can” to “allow” them to stay on planet earth….within reason of course.

I may even be tempted to point out the obvious, which is that if you are going to purport to support Veterans, now might not be the best time to go criticizing the ADA. America finds itself in the midst of the largest wave of returning veterans with physical disabilities, and a staggering 1 in 5 returning soldiers said to have mental disabilities such as PTSD. So if you truly believe that “the men and women of our armed services deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are,” and indeed they do, you can start by supporting any means of removing obstacles in their way.

While there is much that could and HAS been said about Rand’s now infamous remarks on the ADA, in light of this week’s festivities I feel like one more frightening observation should be made before we put this one to bed.

Rand Paul is not alone in his beliefs.

Sadly, despite his stunning remarks on the civil rights movement and his strange alliance with an ever more ludicrous Tea Party constituency, his attitude toward people with disabilities is not uncommon. So for those of you who nodded in agreement when you read his quote, or protested having sidewalks on Tates Creek Road, or have ever parked in an accessible parking space without a placard, here are 5 reasons why Rand Paul’s and your attitude are bad for local businesses:

1. Your beliefs encourage ignorance and fear among business owners

The concept that a local business owner should not have to make economically unfeasible structural changes to a building to accommodate one person is not an illogical statement. And guess who agrees with that statement? The ADA!

The truth is the structural accommodations required under the ADA mostly apply to new businesses and businesses being renovated. Existing businesses are only required to remove architectural barriers, and even then only if that removal is “readily achievable”. That means it must pass a sophisticated test to make sure that the cost of the proposed fix is doable based on the size of the business.

2. By alienating people with disabilities, you alienate 5.3 million potential customers

People with disabilities shop. In fact, as a person who markets products exclusively to people with disabilities, I can tell you they are some of the most savvy and self-qualifying consumers out there. There are very few industries that could not benefit from an extra 5.3 million potential customers, regardless of the fact that they may have a range of disabilities.

Not everyone has children, so restaurants don’t HAVE to invest in high chairs, children’s menus, and Koala changing stations in their bathrooms. They make those accommodations, because they want to expand their market reach to families with young children. Similarly, as a business owner, if you tell me that putting in a curb cut is going to pay for itself in new business revenue, I’m probably not going to have a problem with that.

3. People with disabilities constitute one of the largest untapped talent pools in human resources

One in five people in this country have some type of disability. As an employer, simply making minor changes in how inclusive your business operates can open up a tremendous talent pool to you. In fact, the younger professionals entering the workforce constitute the first group to have fully benefited from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. So again, comparing the cost of making my building accessible to the cost of losing out on 20% more talent in a time where talent shortage is becoming a larger threat seems like a no brainer.

4. Making reasonable accommodations has proved to be fiscally conservative in the long run

Clearly, the amount of money spent to make our communities a little more accessible pales in comparison to the prospect of having to support 5.3 million people without jobs, and who cannot therefore put money back into the economy. One of the many ironies in Rand Paul’s stance is the fact that he believes the ADA and programs like it are exclusively federal weapons. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act established one of the most beneficial state run programs to date for people with disabilities: Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR is NOT a welfare program, but rather a state-run program that’s sole purpose is to get people with disabilities back to work no matter what it takes. They serve ALL people with disabilities regardless of family income.

It’s not socialism, Rand, it’s good conservative economics.

5. According to statistics, you are temporarily-abled

It’s sort of inside joke in my industry that many of the more hardcore disability advocates prefer not to refer to people with disabilities as “disabled” or “handicapped”, but would rather refer to everyone else as “temporarily-abled”. It’s true that you may be one car accident away from these issues hitting closer to home than you ever thought possible.

Furthermore, what is true for the majority of us, hopefully, is that we are going to live longer than our parents and their parents. Making our communities accessible today is not about charity or avoiding legal liability. It is about investing in our local economy and selfishly in our own personal futures. It is virtually inevitable that you or someone you love will need to use accommodations that may not otherwise have been made without the ADA.

For whom does the wheelchair ramp slant? It slants for thee.

So while you should certainly do as Rand Paul does and make sure that your business has “wheelchair ramps and things like that”, don’t buy into the propaganda that the ADA is out to bankrupt businesses for the good of the “few”. Providing accessible accommodations is not charity or welfare or a legal obligation. It is a business and a community imperative.

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