Thursday, August 05, 2010

Should People With Disabilities Get in Free?

The Western Fair is London's annual showcase for carnies and dangerous rides. Recently, its organizers announced that, unlike previous years, people with disabilities would be charged admission to the fair. There was immediate public outrage. So much that the Western Fair reversed its decision.

I just have one question: why should people with disabilities get in free?

On an emotional level it certainly makes sense. Also,  I think a major reason for the outrage was the change from free to not-free, rather than the absolute policy. If everyone had been charged all along, I doubt many people would be considering a boycott. However, are there any deeper rational / ethical reasons for letting some people in free? Here are several possibilities.

1. Disabled people can't fully enjoy the fair.

Probably true in most cases. Maybe admission prices should be proportional to the percentage of attractions that one can take advantage of.

But wait, that's not how admission prices generally work.

Someone being dragged to a concert or movie they hate still pays full ticket price. Pregnant women still pay to get into an amusement park even though they don't (/shouldn't) go on the rides. People who don't drink still pay cover.

It's not up to the Western Fair to make guesses about how much individual attendees will enjoy it and adjust prices based on that. Like everything else, they set a fixed price, and it is up to the attendees to decide if that price is worth paying. If people aren't willing to pay it, the fair can either drop prices, or improve it so that more people will enjoy it more (e.g., by increasing accessibility for disabled people).

2. Charging disabled people is essentially charging the government. Plus, they're poor.

People with disabilities are usually aided by the government, with programs like ODSP and CPP. That's obviously great; I am proud to live in a country where we have these in place. However, I fail to see why the source of income matters when spending it. If these assistance programs don't take discretionary spending into account, then the problem is with the programs, not the Western Fair.

Maybe we should give poor people a break. Okay, so why are people on welfare charged admission? They're both government-funded and poor.

The Western Fair isn't a universal human right. It's a luxury for people who can afford it. If we want more people to be able to afford it, then we should be pushing for higher taxes to assist them with.

3. The Western Fair can easily afford it if they funnel money from their casino to the fair itself.

This is barely worth addressing. It's not the public's job to decide how the Western Fair should spend their money. It may not be the best move financially, and even if it was, there would probably be outrage because they're using dirty gambling money to fund a children's fair.

4. Disabled people have a rough life, so we should give them a break.

This is the most compelling for me. Emotionally, I'm fully on board with this. I believe that a good measure of a society is how it treats its most disadvantaged members. Society should be set up so that everyone, no matter what, can live as comfortably as possible and be able to reach their full potential.

But the Western Fair isn't society. It's a business.

More importantly, there is a fine line between helping our fellow man and meaningless expressions of pity. Essentially giving someone a $10.00 gift because we feel sorry for them is, I would think, almost insulting.

These reasons are, at the very least, problematic.

I think the biggest argument against the fee waiver is this: it's discrimination. Plain and simple, it's treating an individual differently based on their group membership.

There are some cases where discrimination is okay, but we must be very careful when we start going down that road, because it's hard to get off. There are a lot of reasons for having a rough life, or for being in a bad place physically, mentally, or financially. When we pick one category to help/pity, it raises the question of why all the others are left out. Unless there is very good reason for doing otherwise, the most ethically defensible policy is to treat all people equally, then let individuals decide if they wish to accept that policy.

I do think the Western Fair made the right decision. Having the exception then taking it away was a bad move, and they should have foreseen the outrage. However, other than as a marketing ploy that caters to the easily-angered masses, I am not fully convinced that there were rational reasons for having the admission fee waiver there in the first place.

Caveats: I have little personal experience with disabilities, and have not spent a substantial amount of time researching this. I may have missed arguments, or clarifications to the ones above. I am only reacting to what I have seen. I think it is important to fully reason through such ethically loaded issues rather than reacting with blind outrage based on shallow initial reactions.

Also, the issue of allowing people who HELP disabled people to get in free is a completely different one. In that case, while it's still muddy, I'm more solidly on the side of allowing the helper in for free. To put it bluntly, the helper is acting as a device that allows the other person to attend, rather than themselves attending.

I just read somewhere that the Western Fair ONLY considers someone "special needs" if they require another person. So maybe their policy makes more sense. I still think the above reasoning is relevant, though, as I have seen these poor arguments made in relation to the Western Fair affair.

P.S. I am not heartless. Heartless would be reacting without fully thinking through the implications for all people involved.

NOTE: Blogger's comment system seems to be messed up today. Be sure to copy your comment before pressing post and/or try again later and/or Tweet it to me.


Johnson said...

All good arguments. I essentially agree. And I think for the most part, people with disabilities would too.
I think you'd be hard pressed to find a person with a disability who wanted special treatment.

Most simply want, and all deserve, equal treatment. That is, a person with a disability has a right to accessibility to all the things everyone else wants, for example the bus, or a store. They don't demand they ride the bus for free or that the store gives them free merchandise, but the bus should accommodate their disability and the store should be accessible.

In order to have that same level of accessibility, some people require attendants, thus these people should not (and I'm pretty sure legally do not) have to pay a fare.

Having said that, the Western Fair is possibly the dirtiest, white-trashiest event in London and anyone who avoids it this year is probably better off. I mean really. It's a week of livestock and poorly maintained machines designed to make you vomit. No thanks.

Rob said...

Arrgh! Stupid blogger. Had just written a HUGE comment about this and it gave me an error when I submitted. And I didn't copy my text first. Sigh.

Okay, here it is in a nutshell:
-What would happen to me if I charged an able-bodied person $5 to get in but charged a disabled person $10? I'd get sued into the stone-age and representatives of said group would be on the news demanding equal treatment. (This could be ANY group - relgious, sex, ethnic, etc.) However, when an organization DOES treat them equally they're on the news complaining about it.

-Caregivers should get in free with a paid admission for care recipient.

-Fair did a LOUSY job with this price equalization. An annoucement should have been made around Feb/Mar of 2009 giving people about a year and half to get used to the idea.

-I can understand the fair wanting to charge kids but again, more notice should have been giving because a lot of families need to budget for the trip - it's not cheap! Not sure if it's a GOOD business decision - hoping weather is as good as, if not better, than last year so that attendance comparisons can be more directly related year over year.

Brian said...

These are good, rational points, which I agreed with before I started writing, but on something like this, an issue that combines money and personal sensitivities, I'm afraid rationality isn't going to settle it. (I know from hundreds of "conversations" with customers: there's no convincing people on things like this.)

I don't give much weight to the discrimination/equality argument. People aren't going to bitterly go to the fair under a cloud of discriminatory policies, they'll make a big fuss beforehand and choose not to pay until the policy is changed. It isn't like the government discriminating, there's kind of a negotiation involved, so people have more leverage to keep things from becoming unfair.

It would be one thing to give a discount to redheads, but I think most people are happy letting children, seniors, and people with disabilities have a discount in the same way that we tend to be more accommodating & courteous to them out on the street, in doorways, etc. Instead worrying about discrimination, I'm more worried about a society that isn't considerate of each other as humans with different needs (although that doesn't come altogether naturally to me).

(However, I do have a dislike for "education discounts" on software...)

Another point is that the Fair is better with more people there. People go because everyone they know goes. If some of their friends and neighbours can't go because of a disability or a lot of small kids, then they'll have less fun, because it's a social experience that everyone talks about, etc. A discount may not actually overcome the barrier, but can provide enough incentive to make people feel wanted and they'll make the extra effort.

Think of it like a group of friends pitching in to help the one broke friend come along on trip or a night out: it isn't technically "fair" but everyone benefits.

I suppose there's a danger if that friend starts to abuse his friends' goodwill, so analogously I guess you're right that there is some hazard involved in making special accommodations, but I haven't seen anything to indicate that there is, for now.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to me to see who was actually enraged over the policy change. Was it disabled people or people who were just outraged on behalf of disabled people?

Also, geez, Phronk, you're so insensitive to the disabled! (I keed, I keed.)

Secretly, I'm hoping you'll write about that article I sent you today.

sarah said...

You're far too rational to the detriment of common sense/humanity!!

I miss you anyway though!. :)

SharkBoy said...

Like movie theatres, the fair makes a LOT more money with what people buy once inside, so if they let anyone free, they know they will recuperate with the games, the food, the bingo... grrrr... Fair bingo... my eyes

corzair said...

QUOTE-"it's discrimination. Plain and simple, it's treating an individual differently based on their group membership."
What an outrageous point to make - oh yeah i chose to be disabled...
You sir have mad an Idiotic blog post and pray youre not a pomp-ass moron like you sound!
I tell you what get a wheelchair - then live in it for a week - dont move you legs or use them for support, also restrict how much you use your arms - some people have low strength generally.
Now live like that and do all that that entails honestly and fully. Then also volunteer some place where you personally get to help out disable people for a while - No not a couple of days either but a proper while like a few weeks.
Then you will some idea of what is involved and then you can make a more resonable blog post!

Phronk said...

You've all made some great points worth thinking about. Thank you. I'd respond in more detail but there's not much to add.

Except, Corzair: First, I never mentioned choice. People do not choose race and rarely choose religion, and it is still wrong (IMHO) to discriminate based on either without thinking about it very very carefully. Second, I'd appreciate your comment more if you told me which of my arguments are unreasonable, rather than calling me names and attacking my lack of experience. If you are disabled, then you must have unique insight into this issue that I'd love to hear about.

Claire said...

Hey Phronk,
I have a child with severe multiple physical and cognitive challenges (in a wheelchair). I don't think your post is offensive. It's always good to hear how the non-disabled see the world. No, you don't get everything (and you admit to that), but you're not an idiot either. I personally have always preferred the model where regular fees are paid and support workers get in for half price. That's fair and accommodating at the same time. I think "Johnson" covers the rest perfectly. BTW, also liked your response to Corzair.