Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine — a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com.
Anderson Cooper Fuels Fear of ADA
On December 4, 2016, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For 13 minutes, Anderson Cooper, the host of the show, interviewed corrupt attorneys whose get rich plots involved visiting businesses with the sole purpose of suing them for not being ADA compliant.
With angry tones, business owners expressed their frustrations to Cooper, as they felt wronged for being targeted. The piece also profiled two disabled individuals who had been hired by unethical lawyers, and tricked into participating in what Cooper refers to as “drive-by lawsuits.”
For several people, the segment may have come across as simply a cautionary tale – especially when you hear Cooper end the piece with the unnerving words, “Most states and the District of Columbia currently award cash damages for plaintiffs who file such lawsuits, and with so many businesses around the country still not in compliance, it may not be long before you start hearing about these kinds of lawsuits in a town or city near you.”
However, for a group of disability advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cooper and 60 Minutes didn’t just promote fear and animosity towards the ADA, but also deceived them.
“I was contacted by 60 Minutes in early June of 2015 to be a part of an ADA celebration story,” said disability rights attorney Layny Feingold over the phone. “A bunch of us from the disability advocate community were interviewed and had our photo taken. But, the story never ran.”
Feingold, who has been representing the blind community for 20 years, says she has done interviews with the media in the past that never aired; though, this is the only time in which she witnessed people having their picture taken for a celebratory story, only to discover their images being used in a negative way.
One of the advocates whose cropped photos were used in the 60 Minutes clip is Ingrid Tischer, Director of Development at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. Tischer’s fury for what 60 Minutes and Cooper did to the disability community in the San Francisco Bay Area and the ADA is palpable. In her blog, Tales from the Crip, Tischer writes:
“…they used that footage to undermine and dishonor the law that made me – a woman with a disability – a full citizen in 1990. 60 Minutes came to OUR house, used us, and told the world people with disabilities are either dupes, greedy or both.”
Diversity Rules reached out to 60 Minutes for comment, but no one replied to our queries.
It is also important to note that Cooper is dyslexic, according to Disabled World and Understood.org, and has openly discussed growing up with a disability. Yet, the outrage towards Cooper and 60 Minutes continues to grow across the country, as many people with disabilities feel as though the piece creates a dark sentiment towards people with disabilities, and that the law protects them.
New York-based blind writer Stephen Kuusisto condemns Cooper in his personal blog, Planet of the Blind. He writes:
“On Sunday evening, CBS ran a vicious piece about the Americans with Disabilities Act, essentially portraying it as a profound impediment to business…. Anderson Cooper should be ashamed of himself, though one supposes he lives in such a perfect bubble he’s beyond social irony. Or perhaps he’s a single issue politician.”
Other disability advocates believe Cooper and 60 Minutes are antagonizing the ADA even though the law has been around for more than two decades. And, not knowing the law never makes a person not accountable.
Tammie Stevens, a living skills trainer for people with visual impairments at the Center for Vision Enhancement, reacted to Cooper and 60 Minutes with disgust and rage.
“They have to have been living under a rock not to know that there is accountability for non-compliance with existing laws of any kind. Yes, the lawyers were taking advantage of the situation. Yes, there exists a situation to be taken advantage of. Villainizing the people that the law was meant to protect clearly misses the point,” Stevens wrote in an email to Diversity Rules.
According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States. Furthermore, Disability-Marketing.com states that of the 54 million people limited
in their activities due to long-term disability…
• 73% are the heads of households
• 46% are married
• 58% own their own homes
• 77% have no children
• 48% are principal shoppers
Lastly, the aggregate income of people with disabilities tops $1 trillion. This includes $220 billion in discretionary income.
Sadly, Cooper and 60 Minutes used their platform to fuel fear among small business owners, instead of showing how complying with the ADA isn’t just the law, but also a smart business investment.