Reasons & Remarks – Ignorance or Stupidity?

Dealing with other people’s stupidity or Ignorance can be challenging

By Tom Fjerstad

I’ve become a bit of a road warrior lately. I always liked to drive, but recently, I like to drive more because of what many times seem like totally uncontrollable outside factors —specifically, the airline industry.

The airlines come with boarding, deplaning and the ever-present bathroom issues on longer flights, not to mention the risk of loss or damage to your wheelchair. Have I become a control freak? I don’t think so.

I don’t think having aspirations of an easy and dignified airline experience means I have control issues. There’s just something comforting about getting into my vehicle and hitting the road. I know that if I need to use the restroom, I can just stop and do so. If I’m hungry, there are usually plenty of options available. If I get tired, I can stop and rest.

But the most important thing is that when I get to my final destination, I know my wheelchair and other medical necessities will be there and undamaged upon arrival.

The first week of this month, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) representatives from our chapters across the country gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual Advocacy and Legislation Training Seminar. On March 4 and 5, these representatives will storm Capitol Hill and meet with their congressional representatives.

For years, I’ve tried to convince myself that stupid people can’t possibly be elected to Congress, but all too often that line of thinking is called into question. I personally made the trip to D.C. year after year while serving as the advocacy director for the PVA Minnesota Chapter.

Over the years, I met with representatives from both sides of the aisle. And if there’s one thing you can say about Minnesota, it’s that it has a unique ability to elect some individuals who push the extreme in one fashion or another.

I usually found the issues PVA presented garnished bipartisan support, but at the same time, they often required us to become teachers, educating our members of Congress to ensure a clear understanding of the importance of our concerns.

When on Capitol Hill this year, we need to once again remember that we may not be able to do anything about stupidity, but ignorance is something we can overcome. PVA has a proud history of educating the members of Congress to the special needs of our membership and the far bigger constituency affected by our advocacy.

With the current state of politics in Washington, I hope our legislators find the issues we present to be a pleasant breath of fresh air in so much as our issues may be something they can accomplish with bipartisan support — a rarity these days.

We may have the unexpected effect of making them, for however short a period of time, remember one of the basic principles of why they were sent to Washington, D.C. — to effectuate sincere and impactful changes on the lives of their constituents.

As to my opening remarks? Air travel for people with disabilities is one of many important issues being addressed during this year’s seminar, which includes the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (HR 1549/S 669). You can read about this piece of legislation in Pushing Access Forward on page 30. Who knows? Maybe the day will come when even I’ll think a two-hour flight is easier than a 12-hour drive. 

If you know someone who’s traveling to Washington, D.C., this year to participate in the seminar, wish him or her luck. When he or she returns, ask that person if he or she encountered more ignorance or stupidity on Capitol Hill this year and which one was easier to overcome.   

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