I first heard that expression used by a notable landscape architect as he was describing an unsightly and, in his opinion, unnecessary wheelchair ramp in a local park.
The fact that the ramp was unsightly was undisputed. The argument was over its necessity. The architect argued that it was impossible to provide handicapped access to all areas of the park and that the ramp, apart from being ugly and virtually never used, was very expensive and took away limited funds that could have been used to enhance the park for the greater good. I agreed with him.
Some years ago, when the American's With Disabilities Act (ADA) was interpreted by the courts to apply to parks and recreational facilities, I was a park planner with the city of Gatorville. At the time of that judgement, the planning and construction of nearly every trail system in the country came to a screeching halt. It took an act of Congress to modify ADA to exempt wilderness trails from the handicapped access requirement. But it didn't exempt other recreational facilities.
At the time, I was charged with building a two-story story scorer's box, commonly called a press box, at a very popular baseball park. The scorer's box would have served four ball diamonds which all backed up to the building and which housed restrooms and concessions on the ground floor. The athletic association badly needed the elevated stand to score league play when all fields were in use. ADA required that we provide handicapped access to the second floor regardless of the fact that there were no handicapped scorers involved in any of the leagues. It would have been impossible to build a ramp and the cost of an elevator was way out of the budget. The result? The scorer's box was never built and the hundreds of kids and adults who used the facility did without it on the off chance that someone in a wheelchair might need to get to the second floor.
In another case, I oversaw the construction, at a cost of approximately $500,000, a handicapped accessible trail to augment a popular ADA playground in one of our parks. It was a paved trail with no steep grades that crossed a little creek and meandered through a beautiful wooded area down to a lovely spot on the river. It was about 1 mile in length. Not once, not even at the grand opening of the park, have I seen a wheelchair on that trail. Twenty years later I visited the park and still saw no signs of wheelchair use. In the meantime, a large soccer association that served over 1,000 children had to wait for badly needed new fields for lack of funding.
In this morning's paper I read where the parents of a severely retarded child were suing a hospital for refusing to put the child on a kidney donor waiting list. The hospital argued that badly needed organs should go to those to whom they would do the most good and that children with this child's condition rarely live past the age of 20 years.
It's a moral dilemma, but one that must be addressed. At some point, common sense has to prevail. Majority rule with minority rights is one of the great milestones of mankind. But when the tail begins to wag the dog, things are out of balance.
The same principle applies to education. We spend an enormous amount of precious resources helping the "disadvantaged" child and it is right that we do help them. But we're doing it at the expense of programs that serve the best and brightest. The future leaders of society. Does that make any sense?
I thank God everyday for my blessings. I know that there, but for fortune, go you or I. But bad things happen to people and while we can and should be empathetic and sympathetic, we should not, and cannot, sacrifice the greater good of all for them.