Like most people, my first encounter with the word “Monopoly” was through the board game by that name. It would be years before I studied the workings of a market controlled by a monopoly, but as a child I loved to become part of intense games of Monopoly, acquiring as many houses and hotels as I could with the money I had and earned from my investments. I thought of those little houses that dotted the spaces on the board game when I took my daughter and her friend to play in a very special park recently. Called “Preston’s Hope”, it was built by a local Jewish Community Center and is designed specifically to be accessible to children with a full range of abilities, including those in wheelchairs.
The small city that is part of “Preston’s Hope” can be seen from the highway, and has been an object of my curiosity since I moved to the area many years ago. It includes small houses, a small school and small shops, and even a small jail. Each of these structures is built to be the right size for a child in grammar school or younger, and each is designed to be wheelchair accessible. The ground is covered with a soft surface, so as to be gentle on feet that may need extra help with walking, and a raised walkway allows everyone access to a second story of the village. Upon arrival, my daughter and her friend were soon off and running, enjoying the sand area and the tiny theatre as well as all of the buildings. They soon made a game out of trying to hide from me in the tiny houses. It was then that I realized that in this setting, I was the one with the disability.
I followed the two girls to a lower story of one building, and found that I could barely stand up, even though I am very short myself. I stood between two beams as I talked to them, but when I turned to leave, I bumped my head on part of the entrance. I was not hurt badly, although the bump hurt for a little while and formed quite an “egg” the next day. I realized that in a world created for small people who may or may not be in wheelchairs, the characteristics that usually give me such an advantage in my everyday life, such as my typical height and my ability to move quickly, were the very characteristics that put me at a disadvantage in this new setting. I realized once again that the ideal of “disabled” is truly a contingent one, one that depends on the particular circumstances in which one lives.
When the American with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, I met several people, especially a few economists, who thought it was a bad idea. They spoke very vocally against it, and I am afraid that I did not speak up as I should have. As someone who had grown up around someone with differing abilities and who had recently acquired (a mostly invisible) disability myself, I was offended by these attitudes, but generally kept quiet. Now I wish I had spoken up more clearly.
What I realized as I ducked among the tiny houses of Preston’s Hope was that sometimes it is important to make accommodations for people so they can become the people they are meant to be. Just small accommodations may help everyone successfully dream, work and, yes, play to the best of their abilities.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts