By Rob Egan
In discussing the recently proposed non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Wichita, several people claimed that discrimination does not exist in our community. While I can understand their ignorance as this inequity isn’t a part of their daily life, I found it disrespectful that they’d deny the truth that it is an inherent part of mine.
I could hide the fact that I’m gay if I wanted to— although I do not— but I cannot hide the fact that I have a disability.
I have found that others can have difficulty empathizing with my experiences as a person with a disability. For example, I operate my car with hand controls, and I’m often asked if it’s difficult to drive this way. People do not seem to understand that this is the only way I’ve ever known.
Likewise, the discrimination that I face because of my disability is not always understood, but it is a very prevalent reality that I’ve known my whole life.
Many opponents of this non-discrimination ordinance cited the fact that it provides no additional protections beyond current state and federal law. They erroneously thought this means the city ordinance would be unnecessary, but I can tell you from personal experience this could not be further from the truth.
This ordinance could mean survival for someone trying to put food on their table.
At one point I was interviewing to be a cashier at a major department store. During the process, I informed the hiring manager that I would need to have a stool at the register, a reasonable accommodation that should be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Instead, I was told that this position required “walking around the store to network with customers” and I would not be considered for the position.
On another occasion, I had applied for a good job with a desirable salary. After finishing the interview process, I was suddenly and inexplicably told that I could not perform the job duties due to my disability, and was offered a lower-tiered job with a substantially lower salary instead.
While both of these instances should be protected under current law, the process to utilize these protections is confusing, time-consuming, and not reasonably accessible to those of us who may need it.
With this non-discrimination ordinance, I would have had a reasonable, local outlet to receive true protection. Likewise, the employers would be ensured a fair and accessible process to resolve the issue. Cutting the red tape and addressing issues at a local level is better for all parties involved.
It felt like a homecoming when I was asked to teach at the school that I myself attended as a student. I now have a job I love and I again live in Wichita, a city I care about deeply. I teach speech, debate, and government, and every day, as the future of our community sits in my classroom, I tell them that the civil process is “messy, but worth it.”
I believe this to be true. The debate around the non-discrimination ordinance has certainly been messy, but I believe I had a duty to save others from the same hardships that I have faced. I support the non-discrimination ordinance so that current and future generations can live and thrive in a better, safer, and more inclusive Wichita.