The nation celebrates its independence on Saturday, July 4. What better time to commemorate the passing of an an important law that continues to promote equal rights for the disabled?
The day the Americans With Disabilities Act passed in 1990, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin delivered a speech from the Senate floor in a way most of his colleagues didn’t understand.
Harkin, the bill’s sponsor, used sign language for the benefit of his brother who was deaf and had taught Harkin this lesson: “People should be judged on the basis of their abilities and not on the basis of their disabilities.”
With the country marking the Act’s 25th anniversary in July, Brandi Rarus, a former Miss Deaf America, remembers how important it was for people with disabilities to make it known they would no longer allow others to set limits on what they could achieve.
“Those of us with disabilities face many barriers,” says Rarus, co-author with Gail Harris of the book “Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love and Adoption.” http://www.brandirarus.com.
“Some of those are unavoidable. I have to work twice as hard as a hearing person. Instead of taking me five minutes to make a doctor’s appointment, it takes me 10.”
But some barriers are avoidable, Rarus says. And that’s why the Americans With Disabilities Act has played such an important role in people’s lives for the last 25 years.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities when it comes to employment issues. The Act also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a disability unless it causes an “undue hardship.”
The U.S. Department of Labor says many concerns about the ADA never materialized. According to the department:
• Complying isn’t expensive. The majority of workers with disabilities do not need accommodations, and for those who do, the cost is usually minimal. In fact, 57 percent of accommodations cost nothing, according to the Job Accommodation Network, a service from the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
• Lawsuits have not flooded the courts. The majority of ADA employment-related disputes are resolved through informal negotiation or mediation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA’s employment provisions, investigates the merits of each case and offers alternatives to litigation. The number of ADA employment-related cases represents a tiny percentage of the millions of employers in the U.S.
• The ADA is rarely misused. If an individual files a complaint under the ADA and does not have a condition that meets its definition of disability, the complaint is dismissed. While claims by people with false or minor conditions may get media attention, the reality is these complaints are usually dismissed.
“We can all relate to finding our place in the world and fitting in, about self-acceptance, about being judged and judging others, and how we must look past all that to fulfill our dreams,” says Harris. http://www.gailharrisauthor.com
This post is also in recognition of all the individuals who support competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities who assisted the author of this blog on the “Job Training & Placement Report” newsletter.