Monday, 24 January 2011

Of Hammers, Nuts & Wheelchairs

Another Loa Iok-sin article in the Taipei Times today on the reflexive turn to the violence of the State in order to solve yet another relatively trivial social problem:
"Allegedly inspired by a letter from a physically challenged girl, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is now planning to make it mandatory for restaurants to have wheelchair-accessible facilities on the ground floor."
Since the poor little girl only wants to celebrate her birthday at McDonald's*, surely only evil right-wing bastards could find it in their hearts to oppose such new regulation, right?

Wrong. Now although there appears to be some qualification to the new legislation whereby smaller restaurants may be exempted from the new mandatory requirements to install wheelchair access, I maintain that the use of State coercion for solving relatively trivial social problems such as this (see also this post below on protecting stray dogs) is both unnecessary and destructive of the healthy functioning of a civil society since it evokes bad feeling among people who may have been perfectly willing to help in the first place. The print edition of this front-page story does at least contain some extended remarks (these remarks are however, relegated to the 3rd page and absent from the online edition - so no link) from one angry restaurant owner, in Taipei County**, a Mr Wu:
"I would just flip the table over if ministry officials tell me the new policy is mandatory for everyone... we rent this place and we have to get approval from our landlord to make alternations [sic] to this space. I don't think our landlord would allow us to make the change... plus running a business of this size, we really don't have the money to do it."
Whether the amendment saving Mr Wu from having to flip his table over will stay, or is only intended to be temporary, I don't know. But those remarks show the anger that can be evoked in common people trying to make an honest living by politicians and busy-body "non-profit" lobby groups like Hsu Chao-fu's (許朝富) "Access for All in Taiwan Association" who presume the right to arrogate other people's property and dictate decisions to them. This 'right' may follow legal procedure, but it is an ethical monstrosity; other people's restaurants are not your property Mr Hsu and you are not entitled to threaten them with the violence of the State in order that they cede to your demands, irrespective of how "unfair" you may think it is. Look at what else this small restaurant owner Wu had to say:
"It's true that it would be difficult for wheelchairs to get inside the restaurant, but we also have tables outside, we always seat our guests with special needs outside and we would be glad to help them if they prefer to eat inside."
Those appear to be the words of a perfectly reasonable man who is prepared to go out of his way to help people in wheelchairs who want to eat at his restaurant. This is not a problem requiring the power of the State to solve - people with physical disabilities are customers too, and, to whatever extent they can afford, it is in the economic interests of both small and large restaurant owners and managers to help them. Yet to bully restaurant owners into helping in ways which they are reluctant to do so on their own initiative because of cost issues for example, is frankly outrageous.

*Actually, I know of several (probably more if I put my memory to work) McDonald's restaurants in Tainan and Kaohsiung (presumably it is the same in Taipei - I certainly know of one such McDonald's across from the main train station) which do have wheelchair ramps and/or seating on the ground floor. The one the little girl complains of must be the exception - surely her mother and father could find another McDonald's to take her to?

**Or what the government now wants us to call "Xinbei City" - I don't care, it's still Taipei County to me.

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