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.
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