Dispelling Myths

Circa 1997

What people with disabilities can do is be productive. There are people who are blind working as machinists. There are people who are amputees working on shipping platforms, loading and unloading cargo from trucks. There are sports announcers who cannot see, teachers who are deaf, business executives who are paraplegic, and employees with mental retardation packaging goods for catalogue companies and other major shippers.

They are working on Main Street and on Wall Street, in finance and high fashion, in the suburbs and in cities across the country. In high-profile jobs on network television and in routine, everyday jobs in thousands of ordinary workplace settings, people with disabilities are proving day after day that they have the talent, skill, and ability to do the job.

Whatever the challenge, people with disabilities have demonstrated an indomitable attitude and a will to meet the challenge. They have excelled at every level of industry and government. In the darkest days of World War II, the American people looked for inspiration to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man with a disability.

Yet, 50 years later for far too many of us, the door to employment opportunity remains closed. While the ADA now forbids open discrimination against people with dis abilities, prejudice has not disappeared from the market place. Prohibition of overt discrimination has not eliminated a more subtle level of bias. Too many qualified applicants still encounter doubt, distrust and discouragement. In too many offices, factories and retail shops, there’s a hidden message in help-wanted signs that says, “No one with disabilities need apply.”

Laws can require compliance by business and public accommodations, but legislation by itself cannot enforce fairness. We can build ramps and widen doorways, but we won’t get the access we need and gain full admittance to the job market until we eliminate doubts about our ability and eliminate mindless discrimination in the work place. The ramps we need to build are ramps to the mind.


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Dispelling Myths about the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that is opening doors to the mainstream of life for the 49 million Americans with disabilities. There are many misconceptions sur rounding the ADA. Listed below are the most commonly heard myths and the facts.

Assumption: ADA suits are flooding the courts.

Fact: The ADA has resulted in a surprisingly small number of law suits-only about 650 nationwide in five years. That is tiny compared to 6 million businesses, 666,000 pub lic and private employers, and 80,000 units of state and local governments that must comply.

Assumption: The ADA’s definition of disability is broad and vague and has resulted in “bizarre and arcane” discrimination claims that are wasting the time of the EEOC and the courts.

Fact: As with any new statute, there is a period during which employers and employees learn about their rights and obligations under the law. While individuals have the right to file charges, not all charges are meritorious. The job of the EEOC investigator is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Further, the flexibility provided by the ADA definition of “disability” means that there will be individuals who bring claims for conditions that do not satisfy the statutory standards, and the claim will be dismissed.

Assumption: The ADA forces business and government to spend lots of money hiring unqualified people with disabilities.

Fact: To be protected by the ADA an individual must be qualified. No unqualified job applicant or employee with a disability can claim employment discrimination under the ADA. Employees or job applicants must meet all the necessary requirements of the job and perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. No accommodation must be provided if it would result in an undue hardship on the employer.

Assumption: The ADA, along with other laws such as the FMLA and Workers’ Compensation, are squeezing out small businesses that cannot afford to hire human resource specialists to advise them regarding the complexities of these laws.

Fact: Truly small businesses those with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the ADA. (The FAA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees.) For employers who are covered, the ADA provides an undue hardship defense for reasonable accommodations that are unduly costly or burdensome. Smaller employers can more easily establish undue hard ship because they have fewer resources.

Assumption: The ADA is being misused by people alleging mental and neurological impairments.

Fact: The ADA covers individuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities because individuals with such impairments have traditionally been subjected to pervasive employment discrimination. Just as the ADA excludes people with temporary physical problems, so does it exclude people with mild or short term mental health problems. Neurological impairments are conditions or diseases involving the nervous system, including the brain. spinal cord, ganglia, nerves, and nerve centers. ADA charges indicate that there is significant discrimination against persons with neurological impairments. Psychiatric impairments involve a biological, social, or psychological dysfunction. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities have traditionally been subject ed to discrimination, not because they are unable to successfully per form job duties, but because of myths, fears, and stereotypes associated with such impairments.

Assumption: The ADA is rigid and requires businesses to spend lots of money to make their existing facilities accessible.

Fact: The ADA is based on common sense. The law recognizes that altering existing structures is more costly than making new construction accessible. The law only requires that public accommodations (e.g., stores, banks, hotels, and restaurants) remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable” (ie., it can be done without much difficulty or expense”). Inexpensive, easy steps that can be taken include ramping one step, installing a bathroom grab bar, lowering a paper towel dispenser, rearranging furniture, installing offset hinges to widen a doorway, or painting new lines to create an accessible parking space.

Assumption: ADA requires that sign language interpreters be used in all situations involving per sons who are deaf.

Fact: The ADA only requires that effective communication not exclude people with disabilities in many situations means providing written materials or exchanging notes. The law does not require any measure that would cause an undue financial or administrative hardship.

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Diversity Includes Disability

Workforce diversity has become a major management strategy for many employers in the 1990’s because it makes good business sense. A diverse workforce gives companies a competitive advantage by enabling them to better meet the needs of their customers, success fully compete in the global market place, and hire from an expanded labor pool.

Managing diversity involves the creation of an open, supportive, and responsive organization in which diversity is acknowledged and valued. Diversity is defined as all of the ways in which we differ. Some of these dimensions are race, gen der, age, language, physical characteristics, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences irrelevant to one’s capacity to perform a job.

Why Do I Need To Know about Diversity and People with Disabilities?

According to recent studies, America’s workforce is changing and rapidly growing more diverse. Over the next few decades, the largest percentage of new growth will be composed of women, ethnic minorities, and immigrants. The number of employees with disabilities will also increase. The current generation of Americans with dis abilities is well prepared to be tapped for the job market and able to provide an added solution for the labor shortages facing American business.

People with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority, and the only one that any person can join at any time. If you do not currently have a disability, you have about a 20% chance of becoming disabled at some point during your work life. People with disabilities cross all racial, gender, educational, socioeconomic, and organizational lines.

Companies that include people with disabilities in their diversity programs increase their competitive advantage. People with disabilities add to the variety of viewpoints needed to be successful and bring effective solutions to today’s business challenges. The American economy is made stronger when all segments of the population are included in the workforce and in the customer base.

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How Can My Company Support Diversity, Including Employees with Disabilities?

1.Educate Yourself

•Before moving ahead, study the issue. •Learn more about people with disabilities. A good way to start is to contact disability-related organizations for information. •Contact your local Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Centers for Independent Living, State/Local Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies, and organizations and agencies that serve or represent specific disabilities. Many of these organizations want to assist the business sector, and some provide free training and literature. •Talk to people with dis abilities in your company and ask for their ideas and input.

2.Develop A Plan

•Establish a system for educating and sensitizing all levels of your workforce on the value of hiring people with disabilities. •If you have a diversity training program, make sure that employees with dis abilities are included in this effort.

3.Consider The Following Action Items:

Recruitment and Outreach

•Even before positions open, seek out opportunities to develop relationships with organizations, agencies, and programs that represent or train people with disabilities. •Participate or increase participation in summer internships or similar programs to increase the flow of qualified individuals with disabilities in the “pipeline.” When a position is approved for external hire, seek out qualified professional organizations that represent and serve people with disabilities. •When contracting with a retainer or contingency search firm, develop the contract to include qualified people with disabilities in the search. The contract should outline the steps that will be implemented to locate qualified people with dis abilities.

Development and Planning

•When task forces or other special committees are established, they should include people with disabilities. •Monitor to ensure that internal developmental programs are available to employees with disabilities. •Provide employees with disabilities candid and prompt feedback on their performance. •When providing training or other off-site activities, make sure that they are accessible to employees with disabilities.

Compensation and Recognition

•Monitor bonuses and stock awards so that consistent job-related standards are applied. •Monitor appraisal and total compensation systems so individuals with disabilities are treat ed without discrimination.

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