Second-Class Citizen Blues

Posted on November 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Yesterday, I went to a meeting with the insurance salesman to discuss managed Medicare products. My attorney, who is very well regarded for his disability law knowledge, recommended him to me. Unfortunately, the insurance salesman’s office was located in a historical building that was completely inaccessible to me. I could not even use a ramp or an elevator in the back of the building because there wasn’t one. I realize that this was a building of historic significance, but it was disheartening to find that it maintained the historical disregard for people with disabilities. I felt like an African-American living in the Deep South before integration without a place in this man’s office at all. Needless to say, he was certainly willing to sign me up for managed Medicare and make a commission doing so. We had assumed he was a tenant in the building and were surprised to find he had owned the building for the last 13 years. During which time he sold insurance to folks like me, none of whom have seen the inside of his office. When we asked about the addition of an elevator or a ramp he focused on the expense of these additions, effectively stating that the cost of accessibility wasn’t worthwhile to him. My wife mentioned that it could be well worth the expense with the aging of the population, especially since this was his target market. He just smiled uneasily and we proceeded into the meeting.

I sent an email to my attorney about this. It was embarrassing for the insurance salesman and me. I can’t believe that a nationally renowned attorney specializing in helping people with disabilities would make such an egregious error by recommending that I meet with an insurance salesman whose office is inaccessible. The insurance agent met us on his driveway and looked confused as to what to do. Fortunately, my attorney’s office was within a block of the insurance agent and we were able to use a conference room that was available in his office.

We were under the impression that any historical building was exempt from the ADA accessibility standards. However, with just a little research, we found that “Contrary to a widely held belief, historic buildings and sites are not exempt from compliance.” This is stated in bold type on the Texas Historical Commission website. It was shocking to Ruth, but, sadly, not surprising to me that no action had been taken about this issue by any of the insurance agent’s clients over the years. In all parts of the United States, it has been firmly established that separate is not equal, however in Texas we’re lucky to get whatever we can.

I am not a second-class citizen! I know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been diminished as a meaningful Civil Rights Act and the United States Congress has passed statutes that have effectively ameliorated this law. Almost all of the lawsuits brought up for violations of this law are found in favor of the defendant (not the plaintiff). I do not see any tangible value in this law as the ADA is vague and nearly useless to both plaintiffs and defendants. It takes all members of society to make this an important issue. I hope this post has opened one small window onto what it means to be a person with disabilities in a world that, at best, is confused about how to provide access to all.


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4 Responses to “Second-Class Citizen Blues”

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This whole situation is terrible and I’m glad you’re telling people about it. Any petitions we can sign?

Great post, Keith!

Ewwww…sorry about the terrible spelling error…I was typing in the dark! I meant PROPERTY insurance…I read your blog and, once again, you are exactly correct. ENFORCEMENT of the ADA is of vital importance!

I am also passionate about historic preservation and the exemptions are really excuses. You see, in historic times, disabled people were either cared for at home or sanitoriums, were not, and did not lead inclusive lives, and many, as you know did not live long at all. Buildings were simply not built in consideration of people who could not access them. Remember, too, that it was also a time when a salesman would come to YOUR home!

There is money available through Texas Historic Commission and the Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation (which is chaired by John Nau III (he owns Silver Eagle Distributors in Houston!). He is the one that needs to be called on the carpet for adding budget to make accessibility money (there are significant tax credits btw) to historic buildings…. Read More

Being sort of compliant, whether in structures or electronic media, is like being sort of pregnant!

Thanks for sharing this story. It is an important one to tell. My work as an IT accessibility advocate often causes me to encounter similar hypocrisies and idiocies. Most recently, I was surprised by the inaccessibility of new federal government web sites like,, etc. But the topper was to find accessibility barriers at! There, at least they paid attention to complaints and have begun to address them. I can only imagine how infuriating your experience must be in knowing that they are not planning to meet the most basic needs of their clients. Astounding! and discouraging. You are right to raise awareness…onward!

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