very nice article from the Jewish Journal | article by Michelle K. Wolf | Jan. 7, 2015
Rules and laws have been around a long time, even predating the Code of Hammurabi of ancient Mesopotamia and our own Ten Commandants and the Torah. Every day, we encounter rules wherever we go, and while many are based on common sense — always stop at a red light, and don’t drive while drunk, for example — sometimes that same common sense dictates that the rules ought to be set aside.
The Americans With Disabilities Act recognizes that people with disabilities sometimes need accommodations that require some tweaking of a rule, so that a person with a learning disability can have more time to take an SAT exam, or that a person using a wheelchair be permitted to use a freight elevator if there are no other elevators or ramps. But some people just haven’t gotten the message, and there continue to be times when a person in a position of authority clings stubbornly to “the rules,” even if they don’t make sense in a given situation.
In the Twittersphere, the latest such incident involved a family on a Dec. 30 United Airlines flight from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey with their four children, including their 3-year-old daughter, Ivy, who had had a stroke in the womb, which resulted in her having spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
The family had purchased a seat for Ivy in the coach section of the plane, but the parents were seated in the business class, along with Ivy, who weighs only 25 pounds and can’t hold her head up by herself, so her mother, Elit Kirschenbaum, was prepared to hold Ivy in her lap, just as she had several times in the past. According to the Washington Post’s accounts, several flight attendants seemed fine with having Ivy sit in her mother’s lap. But a fourth flight attendant insisted that because Ivy was over the age of 2, she needed to sit in the purchased coach seat by herself, despite pleas from the family and their attempts to explain that Ivy is fully dependent on other people and can’t control her head movements without assistance.
The plane was delayed an hour while the flight attendants disagreed among themselves — at one point, the flight attendants who wanted to make an exception to the rules dug out a flight attendant’s handbook, the mother said, that allowed for an exception to be made if the passenger cannot sit by him- or herself. But the objecting flight attendant would not budge. Ultimately, the pilot suggested Ivy sit in a seat next to her father, with her head on his lap, and the flight was able to take off.
Elit Kirschenbaum later turned to social media to air her grievance and to ask for an apology, prompting many posts supporting #UnitedwithIvy, but also causing a backlash from many posters who complained that the family was trying to get away with noncompliance of Federal Aviation Administration rules. Those regulations state, “During takeoff, landing, and movement on the surface, each person on board shall occupy an approved seat or berth with a separate seatbelt properly secured about him/her. However, a person who has not reached his/her second birthday may be held by an adult occupying a seat or berth.” At 25 pounds, Ivy more closely resembled the average 2-year-old girl, who weighs an average of 26.5 pounds, than a typical 3-year-old girl, who averages more than 31 pounds. United later publicly apologized to the family.
Another public example of overly strict adherence to company policy was when 17 high-school students with special needs in the St. Louis area were barred from entering a Bath & Body Works store at a local mall, which they were visiting as part of their “life skills” curriculum. Although the other stores in the mall had been welcoming to the students, an employee of the Bath & Body Works apparently assumed the group wouldn’t be buying anything and was concerned that if they walked past the sensor that tracks the number of people in the store each day, it would hurt their sales percentage. The incident went public, and the special education teacher received an email with an apology from the regional manager of Bath & Body Works, who said the company is addressing the problem.
When I worked for the American Diabetes Association, I heard about one local elementary school that prohibited students with Type 1 diabetes from keeping close at hand in their desks their glucose tablets or juice boxes needed during an insulin low “because then all the students would want to do the same thing.” As a result, those kids had to walk to the nurse’s office — often some distance away — to get the quick-sugar items. I also heard from cashiers with diabetes who worked at big-box stores and weren’t allowed to keep a snack or drink at their check stand; they had to keep such items locked away in the employee break room.
All of these incidents point to the need for those in decision-making positions to look at each situation with fresh eyes and a thoughtful approach that recognizes, when it is appropriate, the need to make exceptions to rules and regulations. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously said, “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”
Michelle K. Wolf writes a monthly column for the Jewish Journal. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at jewishjournal.com/jews_and_special_needs