I caught the last half of this episode of the PBS documentary series Independent Lens while I was knocked down by the flu. I had seen the first part earlier in the week and was happily lucid at the moment at 1am when it was being rebroadcast.
Talk radio host Greg Smith is profiled in the documentary, which focuses on the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) with Smith (who has Muscular Dystrophy) as the lens through which we see the world. During a visit to Washington for the 10th anniversary of the A.D.A. we see how difficult it is for Smith to find a cab capable of transporting he and his electric wheelchair around town.
The PBS website indicates that filmmaker Joanne Caputo shot this documentary between 2000 and 2004 and while the message is spot-on, it seems dated because of the political activist footage featuring President Clinton and his administration presiding over public events honoring the 10th anniversary of the A.D.A.
The A.D.A. was passed into law a year before we graduated from architecture school and our professors lamely tried to bring us up to speed on the new Federal A.D.A. requirements that would directly affect the way that we would design from that point forward – despite their own ignorance of the new requirements. Seeing Greg Smith rolling around in Washington on the 10th anniversary of the legislation’s passage, it came as no surprise to me that he was having so much difficulty finding transportation or turning on/off lamps in his hotel room. Legislation moves in glacial periods, legislated social change even slower.
I commend Caputo for resisting the temptation to shoot a documentary that paints Smith as an Earthbound angel: domestic disputes with his caregiver-turned-wife, his radio show host cockiness, and his decision to have three children despite the high risk that they would inherit his crippling infirmity reveal his all-too-human fallibility.
It all comes together at one single point in the documentary when Smith is on the streets of D.C., looking for a ride. He starts in on how we who are able-bodied have no idea how easy we have it, using the shorthand phrase “AB”s used by many of the disabled. He pauses after saying “ABs”, turns to the camera with a grin and corrects himself by calling us “TABs”, “Temporarily Able Bodied”.
It certainly put it into perspective for me.