World Report on Disability: Someone Gets It

While listening, simultaneously, to the dawn chorus of birds In my garden and the 5:30 a.m. NPR news headlines, I almost switched off the radio to devote my ears completely to the birds. Then I heard a brief news item about the World Report on Disability, scheduled for official “launch” later today. The report makes the point that disability is a natural part of the human condition. Yes, I thought, pumping my fist in the air. Someone gets it. Disability isn’t abnormal or “special” – it’s just another part of what it means to be alive. [Read more]

Walking to the White House 20 Years Ago

As I head to Columbus today for a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act 20th anniversary on the Ohio Statehouse lawn, I have bittersweet memories of the morning two decades ago when I walked to the White House to witness the legislation’s signing. Before I left my hotel on Dupont Circle, I called my mother and asked her to read to me Mickey Davis’s column in that morning’s Dayton Daily News. That simple request made up for al the times when I had not allowed her to be my prod mother. I took the long way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, touring cherished streets in the city that my mother and father had taught me to love. I dedicated that walk to them, and ever the flaneur, I savored the path as much as the destination. I was proud to be getting there under my own power, but I wouldn’t forget that my parents had my back.

Mickey Davis was the DDN features editor then. He wrote a column three days a week. He was a feature writer’s feature writer.” I pitched him a ton of stories over the years of our professional association, and he ran with a lot of them. He told me once, “Mark, everyone has a story worth telling in the newspaper, if we only had time to tell them all.” I am blessed that he took the time to write this story about me:

Civil rights law caps long effort by local backer

by Mickey Davis

After the birth of his son, Brendan, six years ago Mark Willis says today ranks as the most significant day in his life.

Willis, who is Partially blind from Stargardt’s disease, will be at the White House in Washington this morning as President Bush signs into law the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Willis, 37, communications director of Wright State University’s Medical School and public affairs director of the American Council of the Blind of Ohio, has visited Washington six times during the past two years and has worked diligently for the passage of the bill.

The landmark legislation; which will affect an estimated 43 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities, will give the disabled the same civil rights protections in jobs, accommodations and services that currently apply to minorities, women and the elderly.

Still reads newspapers

“Disabled people have fought long and hard for this, and now they can’t be discriminated against in going after a job if they are otherwise qualified for that job,” Willis says. “This is a very significant day for people with disabilities. America will be a better place because of this.”

Willis, who lives in Yellow Springs with his son, grew up in Beavercreek. Six months after he graduated from Beavercreek High School in 1973, he was diagnosed With Stargardt’s disease.

He was taking a class in Russian at Wright State and couldn’t decipher the formations in the alphabet.

“Basically (with Stargardt’s) I have a narrow area of peripheral Vision but my central eyesight is greatly diminished,” he said.

No longer can he drive a car:

He gets most of his news by listening to public radio (WYSO-FM) and reads the Dayton Daily News and New York Times via a large monitor on which the newspaper pages are enlarged on a screen with a video camera.

“It takes me several hours to read a newspaper,” he says.

He is able to read three books a week, however, through the Library of Congress’ Talking Books program and listens regularly to the tapes of several magazines — Atlantic, Harper’s and the New York Times large-print edition.

Misses eye contact

“People might not recognize I’m partially blind, but I need to be up close, from three to four feet away, to distinguish faces,” he says.” I miss being able to make eye contact and I’m probably at the point where I’ll need a mobility aid such as a cane to walk with,”

Willis, a Wright State graduate who has worked in the medical school’s communications office for five years, is delighted, however, with the bill protecting’ the rights of the disabled.

It’s the first piece of civil rights legislation to be passed since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“A lot of people assumed that a law protecting the rights of people with disabilities was already in place,” he said. “Discrimination was against the law within the federal government or by recipients of federal contracts, but the same kind of law has not been applied to the private sector or to local and state governments.

“Up to now there has been a little amendment here, a clause there, but this act makes a clear and comprehensive statement about the rights of the disabled.”

As he watches President Bush sign the bill today Willis says he’ll be there representing “all the grass-roots people” who fought for the bill’s passage and who will benefit from it.

“This is just the beginning,” Willis says, “but what a wonderful beginning.”

Dayton Daily News | July 26, 2023

When the Flawlessly Hip Need the Blind (to exploit)

Some things have to be documented, no matter how repulsive. A blogger named Spots in San Francisco linked here to snatch Paul Strand’s iconic photo,  Blind. She probably grabbed it off Google Images, and certainly never thought twice about the context of its use here. She needed it to amp up a joke that wasn’t very funny anyway. I publish it here just in case anyone doubts that cruel prejudice toward blind people persists, even among the flawlessly hip:

someone throw acid in my eyes

My very sweet day job boss and Board took me to Spring Awakening last night, which meant three middle-aged couples and me met for a pre-theater drink at Grand Cafe and then watched a musical about incest, suicide and abortion together.

Needless to say, I loved it.

I was seated in between former Board President, the fabulous MJ and an empty seat. Apparently, someone assumed I’d have a plus one. Uh, nope. Mel just saw the show and any man I know would never attend ‘the theatre’ with me and a bunch of my bosses while people have musical sex, abortions and commit suicide 100 feet away.

Yeah, that’d totally fly with Big Chris.

Anyway, right behind us, a couple could NOT shut up. On and on their chatter went, often rising beyond a whisper and always, of course, at tense, silent emotional moments. My prolonged, twisted stares went unnoticed and while I would normally never say a word and merely complain to others, I was this close to asking them to zip it.

As the intermission lights went up, I got a good look at them.

Oh god.

He’s a blind!

While the central casting sunglasses and foldable cane gave it away, I’m already sensitive to the plight of the theater-going sight-less American. Said day job is a theater company and we offer one show that is “described for the visually impaired.” We give them little transmitters and headsets and hire people to describe everything that’s happening on stage. You know, along the lines of, “So now, Dorothy and Toto are following the yellow brick road, which you’ve probably gathered by that song they’re singing. Anyway, the road is actually made of yellow bricks, not that you know what yellow looks like…” You get the idea.

Back to Spring Awakening, it was very clear that the pair behind us consisted of a describer and a blind person, which meant I couldn’t very well turn around and hiss, “Shut the fuck up! What are you? Deaf?”

But MJ was unaware and clearly, not as sensitive to cripples and their ‘rights’ as me.

“God, that couple behind us!”

“Midge, shhhhh!”

“They’re very rude, don’t you think?”

“Um, well I would if he wasn’t BLIND.”

“Oh dear.”

Man, those blinds get away with murder. If I were blind, I’d walk (carefully) into every bar in town and order a Belvedere Gibson.

“$14, ma’am.”

“Of course! He’s a crisp twenty dollar bill, my good man.”

Then I’d hand him a five with a big, proud smile on my face. “Keep the change, friend.”

What’s he gonna do? Nothing, that’s what.

Hey, the perks of suffering through 3 years of brail lessons, I guess…

Spots, baby, you could end up as a bag lady someday. Sic transit gloria mundi