Op-ed: Invisible disabilities can take your breath away

“Invisible disabilities,” such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and chemical sensitivities chemical dependencies are soaring to unprecedented […]

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“Invisible disabilities,” such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and chemical sensitivities chemical dependencies are soaring to unprecedented levels. So is discrimination surrounding these disabilities. In fact, discrimination itself is increasing and in ways, less apparent because some activities have become so popular.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires remove of all barriers that could interfere with the access and enjoyment of public spaces, because physical barriers are discriminatory. But one major barrier is seldom addressed: toxic air, in the form of wood smoke, lawn chemicals, vehicle exhaust and fragrances that especially impact people with disabilities. How can this be happening? And why is it crucial that more people invoke the ADA for help?

• For one, cities are condoning and promoting recreational wood burning on private property and also in public spaces. Wood smoke presents a true physical barrier, just as cigarette smoke does, which resulted in the indoor tobacco bans. Edina High School, for example, sponsors an annual Homecoming wood-burning bonfire that is 50 feet high on school grounds! To students and others with asthma, this is certainly discriminatory. The Minneapolis Lake of the Isles Residents’ Association also sponsors a “Family Skating Party” with a wood bonfire, even though their association states on their website that they will provide “special access” if needed. On requesting that they switch to a gas bonfire to accommodate asthmatics, however, the option provided was “staying away” from the fire, as though the smoke blows only in one direction. To burn wood on the ice rink is like a restaurant with a “smoking section” that allows smoke to infiltrate the entire establishment.

• The number of mobile food trucks is increasing. Nicollet Mall and Portland Avenue in Minneapolis now offer food trucks during work days that idle their engines and also cook with wood or charcoal, with noxious fumes permeating the streets and sidewalks.

• Restaurants everywhere seem to be cooking with wood now. In Edina alone there are at 12 new restaurants in the past several years at 50th and France, Centennial Lakes and Galleria, which are blanketing streets and sidewalks with caustic smoke.

• At Centennial Lakes Park, wood-burning restaurants are infusing walking paths and the skating rink with soot-filled air at all times of day in all seasons. While the park is tobacco-free, wood burning is still allowed, which is inconsistent, because wood smoke contains hundreds of the same toxins that are in cigarette smoke. The park also systematically uses lawn chemicals which makes it hard to walk the park and enjoy nature. The ducks can’t be happy, either.

• Worst of all, our public schools are heavy with scented air from the collective use of fragranced lotions, scented laundry products, hair gels and body washes among students, teachers and staff. While state teachers’ contracts suggest that teachers avoid using scented products, because students are suffering from more disabilities and behavioral disorders than ever, virtually no one is protecting the students—even when asthma is the number one reason for school absenteeism in Minnesota schools. The ADA requires schools to provide all students with a “safe” learning environment. To asthmatics and those with other disabilities, true clean air is a necessary, basic civil right that is being violated.

• Walking or biking neighborhoods can be difficult when laundry vents blast out many of the same fragrance chemicals that are also in wood smoke, vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke. These include lead, mercury, benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic and more.

To stop discrimination that is crippling the lives of even those with invisible disabilities, we must utilize the ADA and press for better accommodation rights. After all, what is more important than the ability to breathe clean air?

Learn more at www.takebacktheair.com



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