dear sergeant

I would like to express my appreciation to you and your marshal for meeting with me on Tuesday afternoon, October 18, 2016. We met to discuss the incident earlier that day in which my personal mobility aid was confiscated before my entry to the Maleng Regional Justice Center, and I was required to use a completely unsatisfactory, presumptively unsanitary, and stigmatizing substitute mobility aid in order to obtain access to the courthouse.

Although I appreciated the promptness with which we were able to conduct at least an initial discussion of the incident (indeed, the very promptness and informality with which the meeting was set up may have been a contributing factor), the meeting itself raises an additional concern for me.

I offer the following thoughts for consideration of future meetings of this sort:

You and your marshal, two very tall and imposing men in full sheriff's regalia, directed me, an officer of the court, to a secluded conference room in the courthouse library, to receive my concerns. I laid my cane down—which had been confiscated from me by one of you just hours before as a dangerous weapon!—on the table between us, within my reach, as we spoke.

Many, if not most, people would find providing unsparing criticism face-to-face with two authority figures, particularly law enforcement, alone in a confined and secluded space, a highly intimidating prospect.

I am not asserting that there was any conscious intent to intimidate me. Your choice of venue for our discussion, however, which I was hardly in a position to challenge as an officer of the court bound to cooperate with law enforcement, reflects a lack of understanding of its effects. I would imagine that it is automatic for you to seek to control any situation that you enter, given your line of work, but there is such a thing as overcontrolling a situation. You may also have been wishing to provide confidentiality for a discussion that might be expected to touch on my disability. If so, I thank you for that, but there are better ways to address that concern.

It occurred to me after the fact, but only well after the fact, that, had one of you made a snap judgment, during this meeting, that I was making a “threatening” or “aggressive” move towards my cane, and that I therefore needed to be "subdued," I would have had no way of establishing that the facts were otherwise. Given: the initial suspicion with which my innocent cane was met (to the point where someone who actually had held it in his hand believed that the head was made of metal, rather than resin); the intensity of my feelings about the situation to which I had been subjected; and my tendency to wave my hands around when I talk, I wondered in retrospect if I placed myself at greater risk than I realized by acquiescing in your chosen venue for our meeting. I also wonder now if I should have insisted on a witness/advocate on my own behalf, which was not presented as an option for me, before going forward with our meeting. Indeed, if our recollections differ about what was said during this meeting, since it was not recorded, I have been placed at a (numeric) disadvantage.

You were both clearly taken aback by the intensity of my distress, or at least the force with which I articulated that distress. I am somewhat relieved, in retrospect, that my impassioned plea for treatment with dignity was not misevaluated as potential aggression.

Although I was not daunted at the time by the venue of our discussion, I am sending this followup letter because I suspect that my background and temperament make me unusual in this regard. The difficulty of protest when deprived of access to an accommodation, even for a person such as myself, means that such slights occur much more frequently than are ever brought to your attention. In fact, I did find my initial interaction at the courthouse entrance highly intimidating, and I had to compose myself before I could place my initial call to the ADA coordinator. An intimidating venue, however innocently selected, adds an additional barrier to such issues being brought effectively to your attention.

I hope that you can receive this additional feedback in the spirit in which it is intended. You did ask me in my meeting what suggestions I might have for the future, so I may I add to my suggestion that you develop a coherent policy for mobility aids a suggestion that you use less discouraging venues for the discussion of ADA complaints. I don’t know if there is a usual protocol for these meetings that was bypassed in my case.

As a family law attorney, I want safe courthouses just as much as you do. But as a family law attorney, I also want everyone without ill intent to have access to those safe courthouses. Arbitrary denial of access serves no one. Remember: every cane is a “stick."


every cane is a "stick"

I went to the King County Courthouse this morning, and had my walking stick confiscated (I got it back eventually). The deputy handed me a nasty bogus cane that someone had abandoned there for my use in the courthouse.

The rationale for this was that my walking stick could be "used as a weapon" against me, and that they had taken it away from me for my own protection. The deputy never gave me a satisfactory answer to my inquiry about what would stop someone using the substitute all-metal cane against me as well. What he said to me was, "I have to let you use it," which to my ears sounded a lot like he was expressing skepticism that I was actually, you know, disabled.

After making inquiry of the courthouse ADA coordinator, filing a formal complaint with the Sheriff's Office via email from my meeting, and hate-tweeting about it, which was probably useless but satisfying, I took a meeting this afternoon with the deputy and his boss, the supervisor of the security unit at this particular courthouse. This meeting was probably much more enjoyable for me than for either of them.

Because of the apparent distrust of my disability, I began by putting my disabled parking permit wallet card on the table to establish the bona fides of my use of the cane, and it kind of went downhill for them from there.

Here is my debrief of the meeting, more-or-less as sent to the ADA coordinator:

I believe that I have sufficiently convinced the Sheriff's Office that my personal cane is not a deadly weapon, so that I will have no problem bringing it into the courthouse in the future. They may hide when they see me again.

I was surprised to learn, however, that although the Sheriff's Office does have a detailed list of permitted and forbidden items in the courthouse (scissors have to be blunt, wrenches less than 7", etc., etc.), it doesn't have ANY guidelines on mobility aids and which of their features might cause them to be excluded from, or admitted to, the courthouse.

The list prohibits "sticks."

I pointed out that every cane was a stick, and so this policy could be used to arbitrarily exclude ALL cane users from the courthouse, which would be discriminatory. It really didn't give me any guidance on which of my walking sticks and canes might pass muster and which might not. Depending on the deputy and the day.

They used the example of knitting needles being forbidden, but I pointed out that most people don't need to use knitting needles to walk. Then they tried to distract me with a question about service animals and whether people "need" them, and I told them to stop trying to distract me because I could talk for hours about those policies.

They said that the "probable" reason that the folks in the Seattle courthouse let me through (which happened a couple of weeks ago) was that they don't have any substitute canes to hand out in Seattle the way they do in Kent. This reason makes no sense. If my cane is a danger in Kent, it's just as much of a danger in Seattle. I am not sure they really accepted my point that you can't just take away someone's personal mobility aid and expect them to be happy using some random cane with a handle in a shape that they might not find useful that's been touched by who knows what people with what diseases. And what do they do about people in wheelchairs?

It ultimately came down to the guard at the time (1) thinking that the handle to my walking stick was metal, which it was not, and (2) not liking the (blunt) beak on the cane. Neither of which he bothered to tell me at the time, he just made his weird proclamation about how it could be used as a weapon against me. So I spent some time talking to the deputies about cane handle designs, showing them, as an example, my additional cane with a "derby" handle, which also has a similar shape, and a point on it, and pointing out how the lack of guidance/understanding of the personal choices involved was a problem.

I said that when it came right down to it, I wasn't going to make a scene at the metal detector, and they were the bosses of what comes into the courthouse, but that it wasn't right that the burden should have been on me to prove that my mobility aid was safe, or for me to be stigmatized by being forced to use something with hazard stripes on it (really?!) rather than my mobility aid of choice. They never really articulated to my satisfaction why my wooden walking stick with a resin handle would "threaten someone's safety or well-being" (to quote the King County ADA website) that much more than the all-metal cane they made me use. Might it be *slightly* riskier? Maybe, for the sake of argument. Enough to justify confiscating it? Ridiculous.

As a family law attorney, I am (statistically speaking) as likely as anyone at the courthouse to be a victim of violence. I don't have a problem with a no-weapons policy! I have a big problem with being required to use mobility aids that look a certain way because the guards lack even a basic understanding of how hard someone might try not to look disabled.