ADA Advocacy Gives The System Ulcers
Disturbing observances from my experience as an ADA Advocate
Disturbing Observances From Four Years Of ADA Disability Advocacy.
My foray into ADA Advocacy was during the pinnacle of my brokenness, parked on the streets of Portland Oregon, lost in poverty, trying to keep my family safe from a system that predatorily beats down those who appear to be the weakest among society.
I was introduced to my late friend, Dr. Karin Huffer. She spent 30+ years documenting what she coined as “legal abuse syndrome.”
I had lived it, so when I met her, read her work, and spoke with her at length, I felt an understanding and validation that I have never felt before or since.
Dr. Huffer was my professor in my Certified ADA Advocate Training at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY). When I attended her course, I almost quit 3/4 of the way through because it felt like I could never make a difference by using the ADA to seek equal access in my life and helping others do the same. Dr. Huffer encouraged me to finish, so I did.
Dr. Huffer taught me the mechanics of ADA. She taught me that discrimination and denial of equal access is status quo, but application of the ADA can change this into a level playing field.
Sometimes, it works magically. Other times, it brings out the ugly truth of the legal industry. Tennessee v. Lane (541 U.S. 509, 2004) is a Supreme Court decision that affirmed what I’ve seen over and over again. The system that is tasked to provide equal access is most often the source of discrimination, denial, and flat out abuses of those of us who have disabilities.
The Justice System As An Abuser
Courts and lawyers are the worst offenders of these abuses. The problem is exacerbated several ways. First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and it’s successor, the ADA Amendments Act (2008) are unfunded mandates. While Congress doles out trillions for senseless projects and pork-barrel, pocket-lining causes, it did not see fit to allot funds for the performance of ADA compliance regarding Title II (State & Local Government) and Title III (Public Accommodation entities). The only funding for Title I is that the EEOC oversees Title I cases.
Case law has dictated that there are no punitive damages from TItle II or Title III cases Employer - Title I Cases can more easily get punitive damages because ADA discrimination aligns with other punitive remedies. Lawyers simply have no incentive to pursue these cases. It is therefore left to those of us who would take these causes up outside of the realm of “at-law” matters. The ADA is administrative, and judges who decide ADA access matters are acting administratively. When I point the difference between administrative and at-law out to judges or lawyers, it disturbs them immensely.
I do get a chuckle from the predictable and usual accusations of unauthorized practice of law (UPL). It really confuses them when I encourage them to testify on the record that I am engaged in UPL, so I can cross-examine their testimony. Having participated in this exact exchange many times, I have never seen a judge of a lawyer take up the cause of having me formally accused of UPL. I seriously want this fight, and expect that they do not want it, and that makes for an awkward dynamic, when they want me to be afraid of their accusations, and I encourage them to follow through with their accusations, and yet, I am not afraid, and they are without the stomach to pursue their threats with action.
What is most disturbing, however, is when judges and lawyers, who are tasked through their judicial canons, and through their rules of professional conduct to be courteous, dignified, and hold a manner of decorum, proceed to abuse those who would dare ask for reasonable accommodation. When it gets really interesting is when they choose to then attack me. I had a county attorney in Lorain Ohio (Tom Mangan), call me up after I had dressed him down publicly at a county board meeting. The case I was working on was a case in which the County had kept a mom from visiting her 52 year old disabled child, of whom she had legal guardianship. This was a gross discrimination under ADA, and it was my job to tell the County how disgusting their actions were.
Tom rang me up, and proceeded to attempt to extort me. He knew that I was working on this case with a local Ohio attorney, and he had looked into my case in Portland, OR, when I sued the City of Portland in federal court. To say that I behaved in a reactive manner is an understatement. I cussed judges out in writing, and on the record. I did this without an attorney representing me, and in a triggered and symptomatic state. Dr. Huffer had written me a sworn declaration that disclosed that I use “coarse language” (read: profanity) as a part of my disability operation. I’ve found that it is authentically stress relieving, helps me to move past adrenaline bumps, and allows me to operate with high function with exacerbating stressors present.
Tom’s attempts at extortion didn’t work, however, because his implied threat (by asking if the lawyer I was working with knew of my behavior in the Portland case) was something that the lawyer and I had already discussed at length. I invited Tom to allow me to get the lawyer on the phone, and we could discuss how Tom was using my disability-triggered responses to attempt to extort me professionally. Tom ran like a cockroach from the rest of that playing out.
This past week, I had another attorney in Connecticut attempt to bring up my character as a form of intimidation. I chuckled. I readily post things on the internet to show how my reactions come up when dealing with the system. It’s the old B’rer Rabbit story. They try to embarrass me, or shame me, and this results in documentation of their own malfeasance. My actions, if poorly presented, are documented to align with my disabilities. Their kneejerk reactions are ego-driven, predictable, and it proves that the disabled have no access to the legal industry.
Just like the B’rer Rabbit story, lawyers and judges will threaten to shame me, but I have embraced my shame. They threaten to label me or pursue charges of UPL, but that means I get to cross-examine their testimony, and they can’t have a guy with no college degree questioning the rationale or substance of their claims.
This system has taken away my dignity, so why must I pretend to be dignified? This system has denied me a fair and just hearing, so why would I be concerned with being seen as unorthodox?
Any lawyer is quick to point out that he who represents himself has a fool for a client. I embrace that. And therein lies the rub. Lawyers, who avoid the ADA and holding judges accountable to it, are quick to shame, deride, jeer, and accuse those who would attempt to do it themselves. It is their downfall, and I intend to repeat this cycle as many times as life will let me. Each new opportunity to face the system with the ADA is another opportunity to document the impotence of the system to truly dispense justice, and to further remove the faith and trust of the public in that system. Why should I hold the decorum and act as if I have faith in a system that demands my accountability, but denies its own accountability? My very identity, and the identity of those who have the courage is to call the system out as wanting.
The reactions of those who are dependent upon the system to maintain the facade of fairness can easily be classified as weeping and gnashing of teeth.
William Goren, who writes the American Bar Association published work called Understanding the ADA, admits that lawyers are afraid to hold judges accountable.
What we are left with is a system where the most needy segment of society has a law protecting them, yet no incentive for the covered entities to be compliant, other than the threat of a lawsuit, and an entire legal industry that has no incentive to pursue ADA cases.
Disabled individuals have no equal access, because the law that is supposed to protect them was made impotent by the absence of funding and the removal of punitive damages. Courts regularly abuse litigants with invisible disabilities, and until Dr. Huffer showed me how judges and other offenders could be held accountable in federal court with and ADA lawsuit, there was no possibility in my mind that this injustice could reconcile.
To be candid, for this to change, I’ll have to sue a state or local government entity in federal court (without a lawyer), and it is the same federal court system that gives us “qualified immunity” (which has no basis for existence from the Constitution) and authorizes law enforcement to lie to us (Frazier v. Cupp), I don’t really believe that there is an actual “justice” system.
If someone like me, triggered and broken, cannot achieve justice for themselves, there is absolutely no incentive to play by the rules that cause this elimination of justice for the disabled.
I’m still pursuing taking this into federal court, but I’m afraid I’ll prove out my confirmation bias.
Nonetheless, I embrace my role as a high-school dropout who was unable to be trained competently by standard education, because of the absence of pliability of learning methods. I embrace my role as a man who has lost it all, only to use the loss to study the deepest flaws in the system. I embrace my role as a man who has nothing else to lose, and so, I demand the system answer me in the one arena that removes their immunity.
I am an ADA Advocate with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. We can do this the easy way, or there’s the briar patch. I live there.