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FAQ46: How can the Americans with Disabilities Act Help?
A Question Recently Posted To WebWhispers On The Americans with Disabilities Act

Hello all,

As a newer lary and some recent discussions on disability prompted me to mention the American with Disabilities Act. Being employed in the telecommunications industry when this act was passed meant that we had to ensure employers had compatible equipment that addressed primarily hearing impaired users.

Obviously from a fresh perspective of being "vocally challenged" the ADA laws have a new applicability to my life. I realize for many, and for obvious reasons that may be physical, or truly medically challenging, cannot continue in their chosen profession. Has any one though felt that they have not been accommodated for with the "disability" when they were willing to continue their profession? This may have been discussed in the past, but the Title 1 portion of the ADA does cover previous disability including those that have recovered from cancer and larys. For example I wonder why all states under the Telecommunications act do not provide the phones discussed in earlier posts. For those who may want to pursue some advocacy this may be the vehicle to utilize for the benefit of all larys. Has anyone involved in the group explored this further? Has it already been addressed. For FYI you can visit www.disabilityinfo.gov which also has links to the ADA home page.

I am currently doing OK in my employment utilizing the electro larynx. But my reading this act hints (I am not a lawyer, just play one on TV) that an employer may be responsible for reasonable modifications to accommodate the disability. Does this include modifying office equipment for facilitation of our devices? I think so, but am not sure. I think most employers will value the employee, and make accommodations without utilizing the acts leverage.

I just wanted to get feedback on any experience for those who have been in the field, or point to a possible direction for those who may be having difficulty with the discriminatory or non accommodation part of being a lary.

An Answer from Paul Galioni:

Just like PL-94-142 (The employment of all lawyers act) the intention of the ADA has been considerably weakened by court decisions. You see, the way it works here in the states is that congress passes a 'law' — but it really isn't a 'law' until people figure out what it means — mostly they publish 'guidelines' and then come the court challenges, and then comes an understanding of what the law really is.

For example in PL-94-142, the law that says that all kids have the right to go to school in the least restrictive environment, courts have held that 'appropriate' means 'beneficial' — The law, as passed by congress used the word 'appropriate' when referring to what kind of instruction and accommodations the school had to make to educate a child. This word can have many meanings, and because in many cases it is most appropriate to have one-on-one instruction, or aerobic exercise for a child, this was far to expensive. So in many court challenges, it became clear that 'appropriate' really meant 'beneficial' — was it better for the child to receive PART of what was most appropriate, or NONE of what was appropriate. The courts saw how PL-94-142 could bankrupt our already under funded educational systems, and held that if you provided services which were 'beneficial' to the student, you were complying with the spirit of the law.

So while we read words and think we know what they mean, in law they can mean something else.

Now coming to the ADA — the intention of the law as passed by congress was to pave the way for people with specific, job specific, disabilities to remain, or to join, the work force.

And the cost was put on the employer —

You can imagine how expensive this could be — if you had an auto accident and were confined to a wheelchair your employer would be forced to install an elevator for you —

so the law suits began, and soon the law began to take form.

Right now, if you have a correctable handicapping condition and YOU choose not to correct it with available technology, you are at fault and have no claim.

Remember that this applies to your being able to work at the job your were hired for. So if, for example, you were a teacher (like me) and you chose to not purchase an electrolarynx — you could not force your employer to buy one for you. But it is silly, the courts have held, for you to pay for an elevator in every building you might enter — so that is up to your employer, IF it is 'Reasonable' — you cannot force your employer to build a $250, 000 elevator to get you up a set of stairs.

At Lassen College our library stacks are on the second floor, and there is really no way to install an elevator to get non-ambulatory students or faculty up there. (It has to do with the way the buildings are constructed) — It was about a hundred thousand dollars cheaper for us to build a series of twisting and turning ramps wrapped around the building to allow those with mobility problems to access the stacks.

Why, you might ask, couldn't the college just have a student helper take what your found on the first floor catalog and go up and bring the books down? — It certainly would have been cheaper than building all the ramps around the school —

Well, the ability to 'browse' the stacks is PART of an education — and you often don't know what you want till you get there and start looking around. Anyone who has been to college knows that if you don't browse the stacks you lose half of what you need.

So — there is a line being drawn between 'personal' needs, and 'job related' needs. If, for example, you have diabetes and need to check your 'blood-sugar' your employer does not have to provide you with a private room in which to do that — but if you are non-ambulatory and need to use a rest room — your employer is required to provide you with access to one because while going to the bathroom is a 'personal' need, it is also a need of everyone in the building and you can't be barred — going to the bathroom is part of a job — but checking blood-sugar isn't.

So - let's take an example that came up recently. You work in a body shop and have to do a lot of grinding and buffing of filler and paint. That releases a lot of super fine particulate matter into the air - which can easily be filtered out by the appropriate OSHA mask.

However no such mask is currently available for you. The employer does not have the responsibility to go out and engineer, test, and have the EPA, OSHA, and Food and Drug certify it. You cannot work at your current job - and unless your employer is willing to place you into another job - like sending Maggie from the field to a desk - you are SOL.

Often state departments of rehabilitation will try to retrain you - The problem is that in my experience most training is a quick and dirty kind of training - and generally you come out as one kind or another kind of office worker. Even if it is not appropriate for you.

The catch phrase is 'REASONABLE accommodation." If it isn't reasonable, they don't have to do it. Just remember that ten years or so ago people in wheel chairs could not cross a street - and cities and municipalities screamed bloody murder at the expense of knocking down curbs and putting in ramps at cross walks. Now we don't think twice about it - so while a LOT of progress has been made - a lot of responsibility has been placed upon the individual to afford, and get, and use, devices or meds which will 'unhandicap' them.

Just as our government sometimes abuses us, we sometimes abuse the government. It is often those cases in which an individual is abusing the government that result in restrictions on what they or a private employer needs to provide.

So - one 'reasonable' thing an employer might do is to get a desk top which raises or lowers the desk so that someone in a chair can use it - or lowering the keyboard and monitor for people with neck problems or wrist problems. THAT is reasonable - building an elevator to get to the second floor where you work is NOT reasonable, but moving you desk downstairs IS reasonable - if it doesn't involve building a double insulated, triple filtered, completely soundproof room.

If you have been a reasonable employee, your employer will make reasonable accommodations, if you have been an unreasonable employee you will find that your employer is much less likely to try ANY kind of accommodation.

Now on to the benefits of being a handicapped worker - the little known facts are:

1) they take less sick leave

2) they produce more units per time than most other workers

3) they remain loyal - meaning they tend to not jump jobs, do not engage in political back-stabbings or sabotage of others.

4) Are more willing to work overtime, and often do put in more unpaid overtime than non-handicapped employees.

5) Tend to file fewer comp claims

Among other things - so, one thing employers need to understand is that they often get back their initial investment in accommodating devices within two to three years - AND they get to depreciate it.

Most of the time there are very easy solutions to problems, but they take individual ingenuity and motivation to secure.

An example is hooking the Larchel to a couple-a-three six inch plastic pipes and using water and activated charcoal to filter out superfine particulate matter. I built one to try to get back into Fire - but the City Attorney freaked out and so did the insurance carrier for the City - insuring firefighters is expensive - and using an unapproved device on a fire ground was not going to happen.

The ADA provides some relief, but not as much as it was intended to provide. Most personal relief is, as usual, up to you, the individual, to figure out.

And, interestingly enough, people DO figure out things. I went to the Western Old Time Fiddlers Association Competition and saw some rather amazing adptations — one old guy who had some surgery (or something — I forget now what it was) that left him unable to lift his fingers off the string. He could move the finger DOWN onto the string, and press and keep it there, but he couldn't pull it up.

So — he got some of those elastic thingies from a girdle and made himself a wrist device which used the elastic from the girdle to slip over his fingers — so he could pull and press DOWN on the string — and when he relaxed his hand, his fingers came off the string. He was right around 80 when I met him — and he was 70 something when he had his surgery or stroke or what ever it was — and by just sitting around he figured out a way to make his fingers work so he could play Old Time Fiddle.

So, more often than not — where there is a will, there is a way. It might not come easy, or on the first try, but in the end you will get it right — or you will find other ways around the problem — just remember that everything that CAN be invented, hasn't been invented yet — there are LOTS of new ideas out there — and often they are reasonably simple — once you find them. The guy who figured out that it was a good idea to put pet meds in red bottles and human meds in those yellow-orange bottles is very rich — and that was just an idea that SHOULD have been thought about about 50 years ago. How about REVERSIBLE prescription tops — one way they 'lock' the other way they just screw in — what a simple idea! — that guy is rich too.

You ever have to fiddle with a car and 'make-up' a solution? — I owned a Land Rover Series II — Trust me — bailing wire and coat-hangers and duct tape mixed with some plastic insulated wire held it together and made it work perfectly (well, Rovers never work right but they always work is what one old Rover Owner told me). I drink a lot of coffee — so I wrapped copper tubing around my exhaust manifold and circulated it through a water tank mounted on my firewall — and it pressurized itself — and to get hot water for coffee on the road, all I had to do was open a petcock inside the rover, let off the steam then put my cup under it — and I had hot water on my instant coffee. When your top speed is 40 MPH you NEED coffee to go anywhere.

I had a need, and found a solution.

My guess is that most folks out there can find solutions if they really give it a try — not everyone because some things really can't be done — but most things have a solution — either already invented, or ready to be invented just sitting inside your brain.

Time for outside work! — take care — and I hope this has helped.

And NEVER be afraid to ask someone for help in thinking about a problem — you would be amazed at how some folks really get involved in helping solve problems.

Paul Galioni

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