written by Ken Chun
Clay Johnson, a good friend and fellow disabled martial artist, contacted me a couple of times because he wanted to discuss disability awareness and accessibility issues in the martial arts community.Having been a disabled martial artist since 1984, this prompted me to write this article.
Let me start with a simple statement: Life is sometimes a daily challenge.I?m not talking about the daily grind of going to work and putting up with an irritating boss and then coming home to a stack of bills that need to be paid.I?m talking about something more basic than that.I?m talking about just getting through normal, dull, daily life ? but doing it with a disability.Whether it?s being able to get into a building, or being able to get into a restroom, or just being able to get in and out of my car in a parking lot, these are things that many able-bodied people take for granted.As a man who was born with Spina Bifida, I can tell you without hesitation that life is, indeed, a daily challenge.
You might be asking yourself, ?So, what?s your point with all of this, Ken??I am glad you asked!I will try my best not to get on a soapbox, but I think it?s a very important issue that is often mishandled, or just plain unhandled, because people just don?t know how to deal with these admittedly uncomfortable situations.
During my conversation with Clay, I could not help but think back to those times that I too found myself faced with school owners who were not as open to the possibility of disabled martial artists, or those who were open to the possibility, but were not, perhaps, as sensitive to the special needs of disabled martial artists as they ought to be.I would like to discuss these two points.
As has happened with probably most, if not all, disabled martial artists, when I began my search for a school I encountered a great deal of something that might not quite be discrimination, but it certainly was not acceptance either.The conversation usually went something like this: “Hi, I’m interested in taking lessons at your school and would like to get some information.”?Sure! You can come on down and check us out any day of the week.”Great!” I would reply.”Just one thing”, is your place wheelchair accessible? That was usually met with, “Uh, I think so”. Are you in a wheelchair??When I answered I was indeed in a wheelchair, I was usually discouraged by the instructor. ?Well, we?re really not set up for wheelchairs.?Or, ?We do a lot of kicking.I don?t know how much you?d be able to get out of our program.?
In my martial arts career, I have only come across five instructors who thought of me as just another student who was welcome to join in.They had no problem with modifying the curriculum so that I could basically learn what the others were learning.One of my instructors even went to a thrift store and bought an old wheelchair, which he used to modify Okinawan Karate kata (forms) for me.How cool!
There are two very important questions for a disabled person that I always ask: ?Can I get into your school?? and ?Can I get into your restroom??I have been fortunate to have found instructors who could answer yes to both of those questions.Sadly, during conversations with my disabled friends in the JKD/FMA/TB community, I have been disheartened to learn that there are some who have to answer no, even if they are more than willing to accept a student with disabilities.I was told of journeys of hundreds of miles to get to a seminar, only to find that while adequate parking was available for the handicapped, there was no way for a wheelchair to get into the school, or worse, for a wheelchair to get into the restroom.How silly!
There are usually two reasons given for not having adequate access: ?We just don?t have the money to do what needs to be done,? is one I can somewhat understand, because not everybody?s wallet is bursting at the seams with money.The second most popular reason given (and sometimes in the same sentence) is, ?Legally, I don?t have to do it because it?s an old building.?How convenient.What is this notion that the letter of the law is the be-all-end-all of moral and ethical culpability?Is there nothing in either personal or professional ethics that says you cannot do better, particularly in the martial arts, where we strive to improve ourselves physically, mentally, and/or spiritually?Why not go beyond the letter of the law?There are plenty of resources today that can help you improve handicapped access. At the end of this article, you will find a useful website to help you with just such an endeavor.
I used the term ?adequate? above.Some of you may be confused as to what this means.The best answer I can give you is that ?adequate? means making reasonable accommodations so that a disabled person has the same access to your school?s amenities as an able-bodied person.As to what ?reasonable? is, I refer you to the web page below.
I would like to leave you with one thought:If you don?t know what a disabled person might need in terms of accommodations, ask someone who might have an answer, or even better, put yourself in our place, and then you?ll find out quickly how challenging life is for us.
Useful web site for handicapped accessibility and the law: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm