November 21, 2019

Wave Your Freak Flag High and the American Disabilities Act

“We spend our whole lives wishing. We weren’t so freaking’ strange.
They make us feel the pain. But it’s they who need to change”
—Gingy (The Gingerbread Man) in Shrek, the Musical

This week we are celebrating the 21st anniversary of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark Federal civil rights legislation signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. It was quite expansive in what it covered and the overall goal was to make American society more accessible to persons with disabilities in many different ways – employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications and protection from retaliation for persons who assert their rights. It was, and is a very big deal for people with disabilities, especially in the area of physical accesibilities in which the design of government buildings literally locked people out from having a voice.

In religious life too, the ADA has had a huge impact because as synagogues and churches have been renovated or built new, they have generally followed ADA regulations even though not mandated to do so, and added in ramps, elevators and disabled parking spaces.

However, there is still much to be done in taking down the many social and financial barriers for people with disabilities, such as ensuring that adults with disabilities have full access to community-based services and supports, as well as meaningful employment opportunities.

For us personally, the ADA means that we can easily take Danny out with his stroller or walker into every part of the community and enjoy all that is available, from the Hollywood Bowl (although those elevators really need to be enlarged and modernized) to The Empire State Building. One of our favorite places is the Pantages Theater, which was built in 1930 and filled with historical charm; they have created two small disabled seating sections with ramp access on either side of the orchestra section. Starting with “Wicked” in 2007, we have taken Danny to see many musicals such as “Mama Mia” and “West Side Story” (and then ended up getting the DVD version for repeated viewings at home).

On Sunday, we went to the matinee showing of “Shrek: The Musical” and Danny was mostly enchanted with seeing the movie come to life on the stage, including dancing rats and a huge dragon puppet, although he was annoyed at any deviations from the movie version.

One of the highlights is when all the “fairy tale” character misfits come together and mobilize themselves to fight back against the tyrannical Lord Farquaad, singing an anthem of empowerment, “Wave Your Freak Flag High.”

It was one of those “we’re not gonna take it” moments of people power over unjust authority, and the audience, including all the little kids present in the audience clapped heartily at the end. When the show was over, we wheeled Danny in his stroller into the lobby. Many of those same kids stared, some a little scared, some curious and some with hostility. Just as I was feeling down, an older African-American woman came by. “Did you enjoy the show?” she knelt down and asked Danny. “Yeah” Danny answered. “God bless his soul” she said to us and walked away.

As Pinocchio said at the end of the song, “I am wood. I am good. Get used to it.”