Under The Sea

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Nathasha Alvarez Fights For the ADA

While Disney has numerous successful animated movies about every subject from poverty to magic, no other movie touches me like “The Little Mermaid”. I love this movie. I have seen it over 20 times and I play the song “Part of That World” once a week or more. It reminds me of my own personal dark time when I was seriously injured.

It was my last year at the University of Miami and the day after my 21st birthday when I fell out of a freight elevator to get to the bookstore. As a result, I broke several major bones, ribs, and suffered a punctured lung. I was bedridden for three months on my back. No internship, no university, and no graduation day for me until the following year. I was angry, depressed and furious that I had to be a victim of the University of Miami’s frugalness under the leadership of former President Tad Foote.

When I saw the movie on video I instantly connected to Ariel. I truly believe in my heart that Ariel represents the thoughts and feelings of so many disabled women who have not realized that there is no need to change oneself to fit the ideal mold of another. I heard people tell me that it was my fault for falling instead of the blame landing on the University of Miami for not being in compliance with the ADA laws or even Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Ariel not only connected with me but gave me the motivation to continue my fight for equality in life and during that period of time against the University of Miami.

As disabled women, we can sympathize with Ariel’s struggle and her feeling of inadequacy based on physical limitations. This is not to say that our lives are inadequate. Disney makes a superb effort to show that it is society’s image of what is perfect and acceptable that can at times make us, the disabled population, feel this way.

Ariel’s song, “Part Of That World” further explains her situation and desire to be accepted into a world that requires two walking legs.

Her father is the king of the sea. The mermen are at her disposal. Ariel is a privileged mermaid. Her home is the vast sea filled with treasures. What more can a woman ask for?

Look at this stuff isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has everything?
Look at this trove treasures untold, how many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you’d think “Sure she’s got everything.”
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I’ve got whozits and whazits galore
You want a thingamabog? I’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal.I want MORE!

Yet, it is not enough for Ariel who not only seeks the attention of a human prince, Eric, but also wants to experience what the walking world does on land. She feels it must be better than swimming in the ocean all of the time. Even Ariel realizes that she must physically look a certain way if she is to be accepted into Eric’s world, the walking world.

I want to be where the people are
I want to see, want to see them dancing, walking around on those what do you call them?
Oh feet.
Flipping your fins you don’t get too far.

Legs are required for jumping and dancing.
Strolling around on those what’s that word again?
Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun.
Wandering free
Wish I could be,
Part of that world.

Ariel questions how far she would go to experience life on land. She answers that by paying the highest price. Her most precious talent. her voice, is exchanged for time on land with two walking legs. The ironic part is that she replaced one disability, inability to walk, with another, inability to speak.

What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend the day warm on the sand?

Modern day science and technology is making it easier for disabled people to physically look like able bodied people. There are surgeries to make people taller, thinner, more attractive and more mobile. The price is losing our individuality along the way. My short stature is a part of me. My wheelchair is a part of me. If you take these two parts away, you don’t have the whole me.

A pertinent factor that Ariel never seems to grasp in the movie because she is ungrateful for what she already has. Despite her sacrifices, she doesn’t fully gain Eric’s love until she has both abilities returned to her. In the beginning, Eric is searching for the girl who has the beautiful voice. He doesn’t concentrate on Ariel’s personality or her likes and dislikes. He is oblivious to her life as a mermaid until the very end.

But would he even care to know or accept that part of her? There are wonderful aspects to being a mermaid as well as being a disabled woman. It is a shame. We don’t need to lose ourselves to gain the love of another. If we do then we have nothing to offer the other person and the other person has no clue who he is loving.

Not all is lost, there is some fight in Ariel.

Betcha on land, they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand
And ready to know what the people know.
Ask them my questions and get some answers
Whats a fire and why does it what’s the word? Burn!

This part was pivotal to me. I realized that I would have to fight and take a stand even if it meant getting burned. I needed to know answers to my questions. Why did I and other customers use the freight elevator when it wasn’t allowed by legal standards? Why did the University of Miami cry lack of money as their excuse when they were one of the top fund raising universities in the country? Why was I treated like a second class citizen and then blamed for their negligence?

When’s it my turn?
Wouldn’t I love?
Love to explore the shore up above
Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world.

The movie touched me over 10 years ago and it continues to be an imperative part of my life but for different reasons. I had my turn or rather my day in court. Monetary gain wasn’t my main purpose. It was equality for all disabled University of Miami students.

Thankfully, after an extensive battle it became a reality. I don’t need two legs to be accepted into a two legged world. I have no desire to be a part of that world. I would rather be a part of the wheel world where I can appreciate everyone’s uniqueness as a gift and not in the world Ariel longs for where differences are a hindrance.
Please send your comments and questions regarding this column to nathasha@audacitymagazine.com

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