Disabling America: The Unintended Consequences of the Government’s Protection of the Handicapped, by Greg Perry. Nashville: WND Books, 2004. 240 pp. $17.99 (hardcover).
For the purpose of “helping” the disabled, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. In Disabling America, Greg Perry tells us that the “ADA infiltrates the lives of average Americans in ways far beyond what we usually think—wheelchair signs in parking lots and grab bars in public restrooms” (p. 2). And as the book shows, the ADA affects virtually everything in the private sector.
Perry, a successful writer and businessman who was born with one leg and only three fingers, explains in chapter 1, “Compassion or Coercion,” why he believes the ADA is immoral. He compares a situation in which a person voluntarily helps an elderly lady cross a street with a situation in which the government forces you to help the lady to cross the street.
In the guise of compassion, we get state coercion. With a legal gun to your head, the government now states that you will be compassionate to the disabled and you must implement that commission exactly [how] the government spells out that you are to do so. Such force is cruel to both the disabled and the non-disabled. (p. 3)
Perry moves on to show the damage that government intervention in the name of the disabled has done to businesses, including forcing some to close down. He reports on how business owners have had to spend hundreds of thousands—in some cases millions—of dollars fighting baseless lawsuits and complying with ADA standards, and how their overall freedom has been diminished.
One example is Carlo Morelli, who owned and managed Raviolli’s, a pasta parlor in Dallas. Many people in Morelli’s community enjoyed Raviolli’s, and eventually it grew to become a catering operation that employed eighty-five people. Unfortunately, a dishwasher, Jeremy, contracted AIDS. Because his immune system had been severely compromised, he got sick often and put people around him at risk. Morelli offered Jeremy a raise to do gardening work and run errands instead of kitchen work so as to lessen the health risk. “Jeremy left and returned with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representative who told Morelli that Jeremy would stay in the kitchen” (pp. 24–25). Morelli’s other employees, due to a rational fear of getting sick, began quitting. The restaurant’s reputation swiftly deteriorated, and its profits plummeted.
When Morelli asked his lawyer what it would take to defend the restaurant against the EEOC’s charges, one million dollars was announced as the cost. Seeing the pockets of the ADA-empowered EEOC were far deeper than his own, Morelli closed Raviolli’s. (pp. 24–25)
Perhaps more incredible is the government’s ADA-backed action with respect to the Alaskan oil spill in 1989, which was likely caused by an inebriated employee. In response to the disaster, Exxon quite reasonably “ruled that employees with histories of drug and alcohol abuse couldn’t hold safety-sensitive jobs. . . . Amazingly—in complete disregard for the safety of even the drug- or alcohol-abusing employee, let alone everyone else—the EEOC says such a position is discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act” (p. 34).
Perry catalogs an abundance of similar absurdities and injustices. He also tells numerous stories of handicapped people being harmed by the ADA. One broad aspect of the harm is the fact that employment for the handicapped has substantially decreased since the ADA’s implementation. Whereas employers in an “honorable pursuit of profits” used to hire the handicapped because they would not let “a wheelchair stand in the way of hiring a good employee,” the ADA has turned the handicapped into liabilities by drowning businesses with frivolous lawsuits, costly coerced adjustments, and general loss of freedom for business owners (p. 175). As Perry writes, “government regulations often cause tremendous friction where none existed before” (p. 180).
The government’s claim to bring independence to the handicapped is a fib. The ADA forces changes that actually result in handicapped people becoming more dependent—dependent on legally-coerced employers, government lawyers, and the entire ADA complex. (p. 30)
As an alternative to the ADA, Perry advocates a free market, which he says has “the tools to provide any assistance that handicapped people need” (p. 13).
He cites numerous technological advances in the marketplace to advance his argument. For example, when Perry was teaching computer science, a blind student opted to take an extremely difficult course. His inability to see a computer monitor did not prevent him from making it through the course. In fact, at the end of it, the blind student “had a perfect score on every program and almost a 100 percent on all his tests. He utilized text-reading software to function better as a computer programmer than I will ever dream of doing” (p. 195). (As it turns out, the student was already a full-time computer engineer and programmer, having previously overcome his handicap.) Perry notes that the “combined resources of today’s technology and human freedom conquer and triumph adversity” and warns that government regulation will hamper “productivity, happiness, and efficiency” (pp. 195–96).
In chapter 3, “Confessions of a Handicapped Man,” Perry writes about his life and having been born with one leg and a total of three fingers. He explains that he is grateful for having grown up before the ADA came into existence, and says he would probably be a “loser” today if he had been born post-ADA. This chapter is quite moving, as Perry’s account of his childhood, teens, and adult life reveals that character, more than anything else, determines a man’s success. His business experiences are numerous, and his story is nothing short of inspiring.
Unfortunately, the book contains some flaws related to the author’s Christian activism, especially in chapter 6, “Social Unrest and the ADA.” Here Perry goes on a tirade against abortion, calling the procedure a “slaughter” of babies. He castigates ADA supporters for turning a “blind eye” on the abortion of severely deformed fetuses, essentially calling them hypocrites for not extending government force in this area (pp. 114–15).
But such flaws do not nullify the value of Perry’s overall argument against the ADA. For the most part, he presents competent arguments along with shocking, interesting, and inspiring stories. Disabling America is a solid case against the ADA—and a great read at that.