By Tony Espinal
We often don’t realize the fight for equality stretches well past issues such as gay marriage and equal pay.
Yes, these are extremely important issues, and we have taken great strides to improve equality among people. On Jan. 29 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In June, the Supreme Court overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
While these are great victories for women and the LGBT community, we often overlook those who don’t make the national news. The fight for equality still exists for people who are paralyzed, sick, blind or just want to feel no different than you or I.
Recently at work, my coworkers and I were discussing a drop in our customer satisfaction score when someone pointed out a situation she had come across. We have a regular customer who uses a walker to get around. Out of politeness, my co-worker went to open the door for him to let him out of the branch. He responded by saying, “If you ever do that again, I’m going to close my accounts and go to another bank.”
Yet while the rest of us were trying to figure out why he was such a jerk, my boss pointed out something very important. She asked if we open the door for every customer every time. Of course, the answer was no. She then asked, “Do you think that he views it as singling him out because he is elderly and disabled?”
Then, a few days ago, I was watching one of my favorite shows, “The League.“ It’s a show about several friends in a fantasy football league together. This season, the writer’s introduced Ted, an out-of-town player who is mentioned throughout the series, but has not appeared until now.
He has AIDS.
As I watched the episodes, joke after joke about Ted’s condition was made, including one in which one of the other characters believe Ted’s medication is the secret to winning and takes a whole bag. I was shocked and could not understand why anyone would find this funny. I decided to do some research on the writers.
June Thomas, a writer for Slate.com, spoke with the writers about why they chose to give Ted AIDS. Their response really caught my attention.
“Ted’s still the same smug, intolerable, cocky bastard that he was in high school,” one show creator Jeff Schaffer said. “Just because he has AIDS doesn’t mean he’s all of a sudden become a saint. He’s the same person he was. It didn’t affect his personality.”
In October 2004, BBC disability website Ouch! ran a poll about what were words considered the most offensive concerning disabilities. Among the top ten were “special,” “brave,” and “handicapped.’
It was reported that these words differentiate those with disabilities from normal.
That’s what it is really about. There are dozens of people all around us who may be secretly suffering humiliation at what we perceive as kindness. I believe any one of us would hate to be treated as if we were less than capable, so why shouldn’t they? I often find myself very annoyed when my fiancé tries to do things for me that I am very capable of handling myself. I’ve even gone as far as to say to her, “Listen, I appreciate the concern, but I am a grown man, not a child. Please stop treating me like I can’t handle this.”
That’s just my fiancé who is trying to help me. Imagine if almost everyone we met treated us that way. Imagine if you had a terminal illness or disability and everyone treated you as if you were incapable of living a normal life.
This does not mean that we should stop being polite. Just remember, treat everyone the same. Treat everyone as if they are just like you. And remember the great words of the founders of this nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”