This Op/Ed piece by Rick Hudson was published in the Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) on August 27, 2004.
FINDING EMPATHY THE HARD WAY
By Rick Hudson
I’m a conservative businessman, and I normally like as little government interference in my life as possible. I was suspicious about the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), not because I’m against people with disabilities but because I’m afraid of the frivolous lawsuits and outright fraud that accompany far-reaching government programs.
Many times I pulled into a crowded parking lot and noticed a lot of unused “handicapped” parking spaces. I wondered if all those spots were really necessary. I also remember when sidewalks were being torn up and ramps installed to make them wheelchair friendly. That had to cost taxpayers a lot of money. Did we really have to go to that extent to accommodate such a small segment of our population?
My company recently built our new headquarters in Broken Arrow. During the design stage, we learned that all of the restrooms in the building had to accommodate people with disabilities. The washbasins could not be installed in cabinets; they had to be open and wheelchair accessible. And there were other considerations, such as a required elevator if we added upper floors. It involved a lot of extra cost.
What a pain, I thought. Then, in April of this year, I had a bicycle accident in which I broke my leg. In addition to experiencing excruciating pain for several weeks, I also became acutely aware of the inconvenience of doing simple things, like getting from one place to another. After my cast was removed, I received a walking boot and was able to drive. I was still in a lot of pain, and walking on crutches was very difficult. I was grateful for the temporary disabled card that allowed me to park closer to buildings that I needed to enter.
Several weeks before my accident, I had been chosen as Oklahoma’s 2004 Small Business Person of the Year. The award was presented at the 2004 Small Business Expo in Orlando, Florida. It was an event that I did not want to miss, even though traveling with a broken leg is painful and inconvenient.
Fortunately, there were wheelchairs everywhere to help transport me through the airports. I gained an appreciation for the difficulties experienced by those of us with temporary and permanent disabilities and for the accommodations now in place to make it easier to be mobile. The next time you have a tendency to gripe about all of the unused handicapped parking spaces, take it from someone who learned the hard way: They’re nice to have when you really need them, and there are a lot of people who really need them.