I’m writing this blog post from Amtrak’s Carolinian train, which operates daily between Charlotte, North Carolina and New York City. I’ll publish a complete review of my 3-hour trip from Charlotte to the Raleigh suburb of Cary in time for the next newsletter later this week.
I was in Charlotte to watch my alma mater, Florida State University, compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship football game. On Saturday night, the Seminoles delivered one of the finest defensive performances that I have ever witnessed in college football, defeating the Louisville Cardinals by a score of 16-6. With the win, Florida State moved to 13-0 on the season and was expected to clinch a spot in the college football playoff, which determines a national champion.
Just after noon on Sunday, the playoff selection committee released its final rankings and Florida State was left out of the four-team playoff. Two teams with one-loss records (Texas and Alabama) moved ahead of the undefeated Seminoles.
Our university community was stunned at the jaw-dropping decision and our hearts sank as we began to accept the reality — we would not play for a title. There would be no resolution. The harm could not be undone.
As I commiserated with friends in a Charlotte bar, I observed that they were all going through something that I experience on an almost daily basis — a feeling of powerlessness in the face of wrongdoing, for which no immediate resolution is possible or likely. That daily experience occurs when I encounter inaccessibility and disability discrimination.
Consider the following:
- When you are left stranded for hours because there are no wheelchair taxis available, how do you feel? (Read about the time I was forced to sleep overnight in a gas station parking lot for this very reason).
- When an airline damages or destroys your wheelchair and leaves you without an equivalent replacement, how do you feel?
- When a hotel gives away your accessible room, how do you feel?
- When a city bus driver refuses to deploy the wheelchair ramp, how do you feel?
- When a business owner gaslights you over their inaccessibility (“we’re accessible,” “we comply with the law,” etc.), how do you feel?
Frustrated, obviously. Angry, sure. Powerless, probably. Resignation, perhaps. Pain, ultimately.
Florida State fans are grappling with that difficult mixture of emotions today.
They’d probably like to punch those responsible in the face, turn over cars, smash windows, burn down the headquarters — they shouldn’t do those things and won’t, FSU fans are not animals.
But that’s how people feel when they are wronged. That’s probably how many of you feel when you encounter an accessibility barrier that, even though it is illegal, persists.
Yesterday morning, before meeting with my friends, I discovered that my hotel’s roll-in shower was inaccessible. The water could not be controlled from the shower seat, which prevented me from bathing. When I asked for a room with a tub instead, I was told there were zero rooms with accessible bathtubs (“we only have showers in this hotel,” a major ADA violation). The on-duty manager could do nothing other than “take your concerns to the general manager on Monday.” Well, then.
In that moment, I was served up a cocktail of emotion — equal parts disappointment, anger and throw-my-hands-up-in-the-air-and-scream in frustration. I had barely recovered (and still not showered) when the playoff selection committee delivered a second blow, a gut punch that sent me right back to a dark place of unease, anxiety and hopeless disbelief.
This is not a sports blog, and I won’t get into the politics of college football here other than to say that I and many others believe Florida State University, its athletes, alumni and fans had a harm perpetrated against them through no fault of their own. Never before in playoff history has an undefeated championship team from a “Power 5” conference been left out. No matter what actions the university might take to seek redress for the damage done to its brand, financial and otherwise, the Seminoles will have no shot at competing for the 2023 national title.
And that is precisely the struggle faced by disabled people in this senselessly inaccessible world. So often, nothing can be done to reverse the harm caused by a denial of access and, though issues may later be resolved for those who follow, what good is that for you today?
It hurts, y’all.
But, with each indignity, we lift up our heads and move forward, bearing the burden of emotional distress, hopelessness and resignation, much like Florida State University will do when it regroups and embraces the unconquered spirit of the Seminole Tribe.
In the face of adversity, may we all live by the university’s motto — Vires, Artes, Mores, which translates to strength, skill and character.
This article was published as part of an edition of the Wheelchair Travel Newsletter. To receive stories like this in your inbox, subscribe to the newsletter by visiting Wheelchair Travel on Substack.