Dial Zero
A look at what's surprising, silly, scary or stupid in telecommunications and data

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is hypersensitivity to Wi-Fi a legitimate disability? Will a foil hat protect your brain?

In 2008, the City Council of Santa Fe, New Mexico unanimously approved a plan to provide free wireless Internet service in libraries and other city buildings, over the objections of those who say they are electrically sensitive. 

"My first reaction is, it's a disaster. My second reaction is, they're inviting a lawsuit," said Arthur Firstenberg, a leading opponent of the proposal. Opponents complain they are sickened by electromagnetic pollution and say it will keep them from using the libraries or attending meetings in city hall.

City attorney Frank Katz, who had been asked to determine whether the opponents are covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said there's no legal case in which hypersensitivity to wireless signals has been found to be a disability, nor has any case identified Wi-Fi as its cause. That "doesn't mean that someone couldn't bring a case," he said.

Julie Tambourine, an advocate for the disabled and homeless, said that the legal analysis was flawed, because it didn't take into account those with diabetes, seizure disorders, respiratory ailments and other conditions that can be adversely affected by microwave radiation. She also said the opponents could have been accommodated under federal law by having one of the three library branches be designated Wi-Fi-free.

City Councilor Patti Bushee proposed taking city hall out of the wireless plan -- "since this is the local seat of democracy" -- but that motion failed. Other councilors said wireless is a useful tool for them during meetings. The council chambers is the one spot in the city complex now with wireless.

Opponents of Bushee's motion also argued that wireless service bleeds into the council chambers from nearby businesses, so opponents wouldn't gain anything by having the city eliminate it there. (Photo from Drveec. Info from The Associated Press)

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