It brings me great sadness to see the efforts by two state legislators, the Sturgeon Bay and Door County Historical Societies, the City of Sturgeon Bay, the Town of Nasewaupee and some local community members to preserve the observation tower at Potawatomi State Park at the detriment of the rights and interests of the largest minority in the United States: the disability community. I write from my identity as a 33-year-old woman with a lifelong physical disability. My “enjoyment” of the tower has been through secondhand experience, looking up and asking others, “How is it up there?”
When the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources took action to dismantle the Peninsula State Park tower and build a new, fully accessible tower, I was elated. To me, it meant a step toward ensuring that the Americans with Disabilities Act was being honored as the landmark civil-rights law that it truly is. That’s why I was shocked to learn of the efforts by some to preserve the Potawatomi State Park tower, knowing the precedent that had been established.
I believe unexamined and unconscious ableism is fueling the work to save the tower. Ableism is the “discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior” (accessliving.org). Much like other “isms,” it can be subtle. A few examples include eugenics, noncompliance with disability-rights laws, or developing inaccessible websites. Regardless of the intent, the consequences of ableism are real and damaging.
For those who do not think they have any stake in the matter, I ask: Do you have an older parent? A friend who struggles with depression or anxiety? Do you know anyone with Parkinson’s, Down syndrome or navigating life with cancer? If so, then they’re your connection. If not them, then think of yourself. We are only one accident, illness or diagnosis away from developing a disability, and if one lives long enough, they’ll likely develop one through aging.
So let’s stand on the right side of justice and ensure equity for all instead of preserving a history that excludes.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin