My Letter to Mr. Jones

Every now and then I read something that just can’t go without comment. Today it was an article on Penn Live by David Jones. Apparently Mr. Jones is vehemently against private development in Pennsylvania’s state parks, but he tries to make his case by saying that if the parks were developed then “people who don’t belong there”  (aka disabled people) would flock to these parks. He also uses some very derogatory language to describe the habits and abilities of wheelchair- and scooter-users.  

So of course, I had to call him on his attitude. Here’s my letter to him.

Dear Mr. Jones:

Although I don’t have an opinion on private development in Pennsylvania’s state parks, I feel that you could have adequately stated your position without demeaning people with disabilities in your article on Penn Live.

I’ve covered accessible travel exclusively for over 20 years, and in that time I’ve written thousands of articles and 10 books on the subject. And I have to say that I receive a mountain of inquiries about access in our national and state parks. So much so, that I’ve authored three books on the subject, including my latest Barrier-Free Travel; Utah National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers.

So yes, we do need access in our national and state parks. Not only is it the inclusive thing to do, but the market also demands it.

I take great offense at you lumping all disabled people together and referring to them as “obese immobile tubs of goo” and saying that “the only sports activity they can manage is golf – with a cart, of course.” Are there overweight disabled people? Sure. But there are also plenty of active, athletic disabled people. And I would venture to guess that many of them have accomplished things that you haven’t.  For example, have you ever scaled the vertical face (not the cables) of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park? Well, my friend Mark Wellman did, and he did it in his wheelchair.

Additionally, some people have hidden disabilities, so it’s not up to you to judge “people riding in carts while getting groceries who have no real disability other than their own dead weight”. Just as it’s not your place to decide that these people “really don’t belong there” (in our state parks).

In this era of diversity and inclusion I find your comments narrow-minded and flat out rude. And to be honest, your argument for keeping private development out of the parks would have sounded more well-reasoned without all the name calling. I hope you take this into consideration the next time you write about disability issues.