Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Tyrany of The Minority

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.


  1. You're absolutely right. It's imperative for common sense to be applied in the interpretation of these laws. Same thing goes for some of the idiotic interpretations of the zero tolerance rules in our schools. Yeah, we need laws to protect all of us in this loony bin, but sometimes it seems like the ones in charge are the looniest of all.

  2. You're right, this is a dilemma. I don't have any easy answers.

    About ten or fifteen years ago in rural Sonoma County (CA), a roadside vendor was told by the County Board of Supervisors that he would have to have a public restroom with wheelchair access. These corrupt arbitrary supervisors would routinely give rubber stamp approval to huge development projects that nobody wanted, and yet when it's just some poor schlub trying to make a living with a roadside fruit stand, he had to have an ADA-approved public restroom.

  3. All things are said in jest???
    You are a howl!
    “And for each and every underdog soldier in the night’

    Just where are those returning Iraq Soldiers to go for a little R & R.

    You cheap ass pigs are to be pitied.

    Maybe it is because those spoiled brats had to run around the dog shit on the field that they learned how to get through a mine field, with a little luck.

    You cheap ass pigs are to be pitied.
    You Poor Beggars.

    Peace and Love, For the broken and the Fallin’ that had the ability to get up and, & got up, again and all like that there.

  4. Susan and Tom... There are hundreds of examples of ridiculous enforcement but the trick is not to go too far in the opposite direction.

    Punch, thank you for your illustrative description of dodging dog poop, which basically says the same thing as I... shit happens. However, I hadn't taken into account insane Iraqis. Now that's a conundrum.

  5. I think it is eveyone's inalienable right to climb Everest if they so desire - wheelchair ramp? I want an escalator.

  6. This is a genuinely hard one. If there were a trustworthy, sensible, impartial and fair minded person alive, perhaps s/he could solve this dilemma.

    Otherwise, each case on its merits? Too cumbersome and costly. Disregard the needs of the disabled? Back to the stone age.

    btw: you'd be hanged in the UK for saying 'retarded'.
    It's now educationally challenged, or learning impaired.

  7. Friko... I'd be hanged here to if they knew who I was! The term de jur here is "challenged."

  8. I have been a strong supporter for facilities and access for the disabled and have been involved in making two trails (one in a city park and one in a jungle area) wheelchair accessible. My team also actually took a group on wheelchairs into the jungle. But I think enabling them to have access is not the same as having to give them access to everywhere and to every trail. That is just not logical. These sort of decisions should never be dictated by the letter of the law but the application of common sense and compassion.


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