Monday, January 16, 2012

ADA Violation of Just Bi%&#y Behavior?

My MS-related vision impairment is complex. I think it's because the problem lies with my optic nerves and their connection to my brain and not my eyes themselves. I can't see far away, I prefer reading large print, I see worse when I am in motion (e.g., while walking or in a moving car), my vision is worse in the dark, and I experience visual confusion when there is too much visual information coming at me (e.g., walking through a crowded mall). So, when I do something in a large group, I usually get there early to make sure I can be up close. Which is exactly what I did when my friend Julie invited me to her Zumba class at the YMCA.

It was only my second Zumba class ever and, according to Julie, the teacher for this particular class was very good and very popular. We got in line (yes, Candice is that popular) about 20 minutes before the class began. Julie estimates that we were about 15th in line. When the doors opened and I entered the dimly lit gym, I did not exactly run to the front of the room, but I didn't saunter either. I find a spot and stood a couple of feet back from the mirror in the center of the front row. The room quickly filled up with people.

"That's not going to work for me," said a voice that came from a fit, thirty-something woman dressed in expensive, work-out wear who suddenly appeared just over my left shoulder. She stretched out her arms to indicate that I would be in her way.

So, I stepped forward. Another voice, attached to another woman who could have been the sister of the first Zumba apostle, said "That's where the teacher has to be."

So, I stepped back and to the right. "That's my spot," said a third woman, who walked up and pointed to a water bottle that she had placed on the floor.

After the fourth woman informed me that I was not where I was supposed to be, I finally said, "I can't see very well, I need to be up close."

"Well, you can't be there," she responded.

Before retreating, I turned around smiled at all the voices and said, "Thanks so much for the warm welcome."

I heard my friend Julie arguing with one of the woman and yelling for me to come back, but I just said, "That's ok" before moving way over to the second or third row at the far right of the crowded room, nowhere near the teacher or the mirrors.

When the music came on (and I assume the teacher had entered the room), I felt some trepidation. I knew that, even from the front row, I would probably have trouble following the complicated Zumba moves. From my new vantage point, I was worried that I would smash into the stack of hand weights up against the right side wall and/or get in other people's way. I briefly considered leaving but I thought, "Nope. Don't let the Zumba meanie mommies scare you off."

And I didn't. I did what I do and I made the best of it. There was a woman in front of me who was pretty good at Zumba. So, she became my unpaid instructor. I followed her as best I could and I think got a pretty good workout. I was definitely sweating by the end of class. By the time the hour class was over, I was having a blast, doing my own thing and dancing along with the music when I couldn't follow the moves of the class.

I made my way over to Julie, who had not relinquished her spot in the front row. She immediately took my arm and brought me up to loudly introduce me to the instructor, Candice. I thought it was a little odd but I smiled and told Candice that I enjoyed her class...which I did.

On our way home, I found out what happened after I retreated from the front row and why Julie made a point of introducing me to the instructor at full volume. Apparently, Julie tried to explain to one of the Zumba bullies that I had low vision and needed to be up close. The woman argued back and ultimately threatened Julie when she did not immediately back down. "I will see to it that you will not be here next week," she promised.

What??? I almost wish I had stayed in my original spot so she would have said it to me. I'd like to think I would have laughed in the woman's face and demanded to know exactly what she intended to do to ban me from future Zumba classes. Would she call in her henchmen to make fun of my Walmart work out wear until I shrunk away in shame? Would she report me to the Zumba meanie mommy mafia and throw me in the pool with barbells tied to my cross trainers? Would she lock me in the sauna and turn up the temperature until I was found shriveled up and too weak to ever Zumba again?

I love that Julie stood up for me. She is a good friend and it didn't stop with the class. I found out today that she also sent a letter to the Y, demanding that the organization apologize to me and do something to prevent this kind of bullying behavior in the future. I was so touched by her mama-bear defense of me that I posted something to my Facebook status about being in great company with someone else who sends angry letters to fight injustice.

Another Facebook/real-life friend volunteered to speak to someone he knows who serves on the board of this particular YMCA. He suggested that this is an issues of the Y condoning a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if the organization fails to respond.

Wow. I never thought of it that way. Naturally, because I still have trouble seeing myself as someone with a disability (remember that I am the person who waited two years before sending in my Ride application?), I thought, "What? That's crazy! These were just some over-entitled, over-zealous suburban Zumba aficionados who would step on anyone who got in their way.  Should the Y have to respond to their rudeness?"

But maybe they should. The fact is, I have low vision which is considered a disability. Right?

I am not a shrinking violet. I retreated because I was new to the class and was unsure of the rules. I wouldn't do that again. I would hold my position, smile politely and powerfully, and explain that I got there earlier to get a spot up close so that I could see the instructor and, if they didn't like how close I was too them, perhaps they should move to a new spot.

But what about people with low vision who may not have so much chutzpa? What about people who regularly retreat when they are confronted with meanness and an unwillingness to provide reasonable accommodations? You could say, and I would probably agree with you, that these Zumba meanie mommies would have been just as rude to anyone, regardless of their ability to see. But, should a person with a disability use the ADA to smack down rude people?

What do you think? Talk amongst yourselves. But comment, too, because I really do want to know what you think.


  1. The Y responded to Julie!

    I am so sorry this happened. We have a very popular Y and some amazing classes and instructors. We should never loose our priority and pride of being accessible to all and living up to our values. Let me discuss with Kristin and see how we may communicate back to this group. I appreciate your feedback and apologize to Ms Baker.

    Good for the Y. I'm so happy about getting a response that I will refrain from publicly pointing out the typos. :-) I'm nice like that.

  2. Damned right a person with low vision should use the protections of the ADA to get her rightful place close to the instructor of a public class. The mean mommy brigade can be moved to the hallway for all I care about their extremely rude behavior. Actually, I think they should get ONE warning, then be evicted from the class (no refunds) upon future transgressions. Sanctimonious bitches. But that's just my opinion. Good luck with the Zumba; I wish they had that when I was still able to do it.

  3. You & the other Julie are FRICKING AWESOME!!!!! THAT is what real friends do! WOOT WOOT!

  4. As a person with low vision and other invisible MS disabilities as well as visible ones I have found that speaking out and demanding my rights is empowering. Coming to embrace my 'label' and be a proud member of the disabled community was transformative for me. For years, I rode the city bus to work and often encountered bus drivers who were rude, dismissive, unhelpful etc. and I suspect treated all customers that way. However, when they crossed the line into treating me differently due to my disability, then I pressed the auto dial button on my phone and reported them to the ADA compliance officer for the bus authority while I was still on the bus. I became an expert on the law and what was required. The look on the drivers face was priceless. I felt that for passengers without the ability to speak up my voice was essential. I do the same now with the local Human Rights Commission and have even reported one public entity to the federal ADA compliance process. MS can take so much away from us...with education, assertiveness, and a dollop of gumption I get tremendous satisfaction in taking a stand for my rights as a disabled person. Keep fighting!

  5. Zumba update: Last night, I went to a different class at a different Y and had a wonderful experience. The room was well-lit which, I've heard, is not typical for Zumba. I guess people feel more comfortable floundering about in a dimly lit space but I LOVED being able to see myself in the mirror and follow the instructor...well, try to follow the instructor. I probably only got about half the steps right, our instructor had a cold and didn't seem to be running on full steam, but I loved it and I will definitely go back. Needless to say, there were no Zumba meanie mommies in attendance this time. :-)

  6. Well, as a DEAF person (HAHAHA) I'd want the lights on full blast and I'd want to on the front row. Dim lights? Whaaat?

    Those Zumba Meanie Mommies should be made to stand in the corner, very still with music on.

  7. Julie, which Y's are we talking about? Nancy is a junior member at the Quincy Y and (I'm her mother, remember?) would be happy to DRIVE YOU there and back when she remembers she's a Zumba junkie, which doesn't happen often enough.

    2. The ADA is idiotically designed to be enforced by litigation and threats, so Hell, yes, you have to invoke it whenever necessary, more often than you'd like. I warn of impending ADA litigation in hotels all over the country and bestow lavish compliments when I like someone's HP bathroom!

  8. Thanks, Carrie. :-) I actually really like going to the Y via The Ride and the bus because I get to go at times that are convenient for ME. But I also love joining friends for spin and zumba so please ask Nancy to call or email or message me on Facebook when she goes to zumba class. I joined the Hyde Park Y which is very close by and very nice. The Hanover Y is the one where the meanie mommies showed me such a warm welcome.