I’m sympathetic to conditions of people who were born with disabilities or somehow become disabled during their lives, but I lose sympathy for those people when they try to use political power to force the rest of society to do what they want.
Unfortunately, more and more militant advocacy groups for disabled people are using the state to compel companies to do what they want. They’re getting away with it because most of the people who think it’s ridiculous have been shamed into being quiet — for fear of being criticized for lack of compassion.
Deaf activists filed a lawsuit against Netflix last week claiming that the movie rental company is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because it doesn’t yet offer closed captioning for most of its movies. Netflix says it wants to offer more movies with closed captioning, but that there are technical issues standing in the way. The National Association for the Deaf says that’s not good enough.
What I’d like to know is why deaf people have the moral right to demand that state power be used to force companies to make or modify movies to suit their disability. If they want to make the case — to Netflix or movie studios or anyone else — that they’re an audience that’s big enough to be profitably served by such movies, I’m totally sympathetic to that. The additional revenue Netflix gets from serving deaf people might be enough to make up for the cost of modifying the movies. I don’t know. The problem is that that issue isn’t even on the table. The only issue in today’s framing of the matter is whether companies are doing what disability advocates demand — because they’ve been able to get a law saying that companies must do so.
Another problem with this particular group is that they’re terribly contradictory. I happen to know a bit about deaf culture, and what I know about the culture is that there’s some hypocrisy here, too. The people in this culture have developed the idea that being deaf isn’t a disability, but simply a different “human experience.” (Read more than you really want to know about “Deaf culture” here.)
Many deaf people even try to convince others not to use hearing aids or have procedures that would allow some people to hear better, because doing that is admitting that it’s a handicap to be deaf. To pretend that it’s not a handicap — excuse me, “disability” — to be deaf is to deny reality that’s obvious to everyone. We’re just supposed to pretend not to notice.
So many in the deaf community want to have it both ways. They want to pretend that being deaf isn’t a disability and that hearing isn’t to be desired, yet they also want the vast majority of the world to rearrange itself to suit their needs. I don’t have any problem with them having such a contradictory attitude. (I probably have my own internal contradictions that I’m overlooking.) I don’t even have a problem if they ask companies to serve their preferences. But I do have a problem with them demanding that the state use force or threat of force to compel companies to obey their preferences.
I wish nobody were born deaf or became deaf. And since some people are deaf, I wish everything could be arranged in such a way that their needs could be met. But it’s morally illegitimate to use force to compel people and companies to do things they don’t want to do.
There are a lot of things about products and services offered by companies that don’t suit my preferences. I either don’t buy those products and services or else understand that my preference isn’t widespread enough to make it profitable for someone to provide what I want. We need to quit letting “disabilities activists” use shame and guilt on us to to get the majority to go along with demands that the world be reshaped to meet their needs.
We really need to get rid of the state, but scaling it way back would help — and getting rid of the ADA would be a good first step.