Posted in accessible polling places, Help America Vote Act

“Basically, I’m a Second-Class Citizen!”

That’s how Kathy Hoell says she feels when she is trying to vote. Hoell is a wheelchair user who also has a “strained and raspy voice” because of a brain injury. She says that when she has gone to vote, she has been led to stairs she cannot climb and been told she cannot use an accessible voting machinemart” enough to vote.

Those of us with mobility impairments know the physical and emotional difficulty of trying to get to places that are not designed for us. When you must crawl up stairs that do not have railings (as I have done) it is exhausting and humiliating. But when those barriers keep us from voting, it is downright un-American and, in many cases, unlawful.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) require that polling places be accessible, and list in great detail what that is supposed to look like. Among other things, polling places must have accessible parking, ramps, curb cuts and unobstructed pathways to the voting booth. Polling places must also provide auxiliary equipment (such as voting machines that assist people with visual and manual dexterity problems).

This sounds great, and many improvements have been made. However, a 2016 inspection from the Government Accounting Office revealed that nearly two-thirds of 137 polling places had at least one impediment to accessible voting. These problems included a lack of the requirements listed above, as well as a shortage of trained poll workers.

These laws have been around for decades, so why aren’t more polling places in compliance? Most likely, it is because not enough people have challenged the conditions they find when they go to vote. Many people with disabilities simply are not aware that they have these rights, and they are often not included in campaigns to get out the vote.

But this is changing: Around the country, organizations like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) and the American Association for Retired People (ARP) are publicizing information about the voting rights of people with disabilities, and encouraging community organizations to contact their polling places in advance to inquire about accessibility.

People can also file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ has taken many of these complaints and filed lawsuits against government entities for lack of accessibility. A lot of these suits have resulted in settlements where the county or city agreed to make their polling places accessible.

In conclusion, we suggest that you contact local community organizations (and your county elections department) and ensure that your polling place will be accessible on that crucial day.



Posted in medical questions, multiple sclerosis, post-offer, pre-employment inquiries, pre-employment inquiries


Because of my multiple sclerosis, I walk with a cane. Next week, I’m going to have a face-to-face interview for a job I really want – paralegal in a public interest law firm.
I’m pretty sure my potential employer cannot ask me why I use a cane, but it’s something that I am not embarrassed about and I don’t want to shy away from talking about it. Also, I’m concerned that it might be the “elephant in the room” and I would just as soon be the one to break the tension. Most of all, I want to assure them that this would not affect my ability to do a great job. But I’m not naïve and I realize that my “openness” could backfire badly. Any suggestions on how to find a middle ground?

You are right that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has transformed the traditional job interview. Many of us are old enough to remember when employers routinely asked whether we had any health problems or had ever filed a workers’ compensation claim. But since 1990, those questions are unlawful for most employers.

Of course, employers can still ask job-related questions. If you were applying for a job as a delivery driver and were required to carry packages all day, the employer could certainly ask about your ability to perform those tasks – as long as all other applicants were asked the same question. And in your case, since your physical limitation is apparent, the employer could also ask you to describe or demonstrate how you would perform that function. It’s the same with this job – although it’s probable that most of your efforts would come from your brain and not your brawn.
But those are the employer’s requirements, not yours. You certainly have the right to bring up your MS in the interview. The question is whether you should do so, and that one is a lot more complicated.
It’s admirable that you want to be open about your MS. In doing so, you may educate your interviewers and maybe dispel any mistaken notions about this disease. And you would certainly be showing them that you are an honest and upfront person who does not shy away from difficult discussions.
That’s how YOU are, but you should also consider a much harder question – is that how THEY are? We don’t like to think of others as being prejudiced or wanting to shy away from people with disabilities, but this reality is why the ADA was written.
You should therefore think long and hard (and perhaps even get some legal advice) before you ring a bell that cannot be unrung. Although it might feel better in the moment to share the fact of your disease, you run the risk of not being hired because of it. Yes, that would be unlawful. But as a former civil rights investigator, I know how difficult it is to prove those cases.
You can also consider not disclosing unless and until you are in the job and you need a reasonable accommodation of some sort (like an altered schedule or time off during an exacerbation).
Perhaps there is a middle ground: Ask yourself what you hope to gain by disclosing your disability and if there are other ways to do it. For example, if you want to show that you do not shy away from challenges, is there some accomplishment at your last job that you can work into the conversation?
If you want to make the point that you are flexible and can adjust to change, think about some incidents in your life where you had to throw out the rulebook and figure it out as you went along.

If you are ready with these anecdotes as you walk into the interview, discussing them will be much easier and more natural. And if you decide that you are going to mention your MS, think beforehand about how you will frame it and how much you want to say. That’s your prerogative.

And good luck!
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has some excellent perspectives on this. See:

For more information about the ADA and job interviews, see:

Posted in Emotional Support Animal, Service animals

Don’t Shed on Me!

The students in my disability law class were expecting to have a guest speaker that evening. But they were surprised and delighted when not only did two guests enter the classroom, one of them was of the canine persuasion.

I believe the best way to teach the law is for students to see it in action. And that evening, they learned about an organization called “Canine Companions for Independence,” a nonprofit group that trains dogs to assist people with disabilities. As the students observed, Eliza the service dog was able to help her owner, a wheelchair user, in a variety of ways. Among other things, she retrieved coins and other small objects, opened the door and even pulled her owner’s wheelchair.

Service dogs (or miniature horses in rare cases) are not pets. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically recognizes these animals as “accommodations” for people with disabilities. This means these animals must be allowed to accompany their owners wherever they go, as long as they do not create an undue hardship or cause a fundamental alteration in the business or establishment they visit (an example would be if the animal was unruly, hostile or not housebroken).

In contrast, the press today is full of stories about “emotional support animals” boarding airplanes with their owners and creating much confusion, havoc, mockery and sometimes even injury to both animals and humans. I was at the airport over the holidays, and it was amazing the number of small, cuddly dogs I saw being toted on and off the planes by their owners. Not wanting to appear too obnoxious, I put on a smile and asked several people if their little companions were service animals. “No,” was the inevitable answer. “She’s an emotional support animal.”

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are often very helpful to people with disabilities. These animals are not trained to provide a specific service, but they can soothe and provide comfort to their owners. And even though the ADA does not recognize ESA as legally protected accommodators, there are other disability laws that do. Among them are the Fair Housing Act (which protects people with disabilities in their dwellings and the Air Carrier Access Act (which protects people with disabilities on airplanes).

So, the confusion, particularly when it comes to flying, is exactly who is protected by the law and how far do the protections go. As the number of passengers with all manner of animals has ballooned in the past couple of years, air carriers are starting to look more like exotic animal refuges than means of conveyance. And there has justifiably been suspicion about whether the owners have legitimate disabilities or are just trying to save the carrier fees.


Originally published in:

Posted in Disability etiquette, Disability sterotypes, Uncategorized

Communicating “Normally” with People who have Disabilities

The following New York Times article gives many common-sense ideas about interacting with people who have disabilities. In reading it, I realized that very little is new. It just reminds us of the value of treating EVERYONE with dignity and respect.

Posted in Service animals

Miniature Horses, your Time Has Come


There has been a lot of publicity lately about service animals, mostly dogs. But a little-known fact is that miniature horses are also legally recognized as service animals in many situations.

The following New York Times articles summarizes this very well.




Posted in Emotional Support Animal, Service animals

So…is that a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Dog, a Therapy Dog or None of the Above?

Needless to say, there is tremendous confusion about this issue.

That’s why I was glad to find this remarkably clear and concise explanation of what dogs are covered by disability laws, and when.

Hopefully this can provide a little clarity!

Posted in ADA government services and programs, swimming pools and accessibility, swimming pools and ADA accessibility

There’s Room for All of Us, Isn’t There?

One of the reasons I love swimming is because my MS disappears when I’m in the water. I can dance, do somersaults and jump around all I want. And to top it off, it’s practically the best exercise a person with MS can get, because it is not weight-bearing and I can work and stretch just about any muscles I want.

That’s why I try to swim in the local pool a few times a week. I also use my rollator (walker with wheels) to get me safely from my car to the pool and back. It’s obviously quite important to have the rollator there, because almost all the surfaces are wet and slippery.

When I first joined, I saw that this pool had a couple of showers reserved for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires this for most public pools constructed or altered after 1992. That was good to see. I wanted to take a shower after swimming, and it’s downright dangerous to try to balance myself in a non-accessible shower on a slippery floor with no handrails.

I just assumed that when people saw me rolling towards the accessible shower, they wouldn’t try to make a beeline for it and get there before me. I mean, who would do that? The answer, of course, is that most people wouldn’t. But some people would and do.

I’ve had my tangles with those people, just like I’ve had words with people who do not have accessible placards but park in accessible parking places, or who take the “reserved for people with disabilities” table in coffee shops. It’s that last group that perplexes me the most, because they tend to become quite indignant and angry when I ask them to move so I can sit down with my rollator.

It’s easy to get worked up about this, but that’s not only ineffective but unhealthy. I have to pick my battles, remember to breathe and realize that quite often, people are just thoughtless. I mean that quite literally: People often just don’t think about what door they’re walking towards or what table they are sitting at.

And the truth is that a lot of people have disabilities that are not readily apparent, and they need that accessible parking place just as much as I do. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have occasionally learned that lesson the hard way.

One of the hopes of disability advocates is to eventually have “universal design,” where virtually all buildings are accessible, many more sidewalks have curb cuts and ramps are there when you need them. And that is not just a pipe dream. Since it costs virtually the same to construct a new “accessible” building as a more traditional one, and since many of those buildings are required to adhere to ADA standards when they are constructed or remodeled, it may be just a matter of time before this becomes a reality.

In the meantime, I’ll try to remember to keep breathing!


For more information about the ADA public accommodation requirements, see



Have you had any noteworthy experiences in your search for accommodation? Please share them below!



Posted in Disability sterotypes, emojis and disability, hidden disabilities


Thanks to my friend, Dan Grinfas, for sending me this article and reminding me that yesterday was World Emoji Day.

With the addition of these new icons, the emoji community is “rolling” up to the plate. Keep ’em coming!


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Posted in casey martin, reasonable accommodation in sports

After being told he cannot use his golf cart, John Daly drops out of British Open.

USA TODAY July 6, 2019

One of the most famous disability cases in the U.S. involved a pro golfer named Casey Martin. Although Mr. Martin was good enough to have made it to the U.S. Open in 1997, he was told by PGA TOUR, Inc. that he could not use his golf cart in the final phases of the competition. The reason, he was told, was because it would violate the rule prohibiting golf carts at that stage of play.

This was indeed what the rule said and it had a very laudable purpose – to avoid one competitor having an unfair advantage over the others. But Mr. Martin had Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder that obstructed blood flow, made walking extremely painful and fatiguing, and caused him to risk hemorrhaging and potential leg amputation.

It was definitely the kind of health condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Open Tour was among the events that was required to follow the law, if it could do so without either “fundamentally altering” the game or creating an “undue burden.”

The PGA Tour argued that to allow Martin to use a cart would indeed change the whole nature of the game by putting him at an undue advantage over other competitors. But the Supreme Court disagreed, writing that “Plaintiff is in significant pain when he walks, and even when he is getting in and out of the cart. With each step, he is at risk of fracturing his tibia and hemorrhaging. The other golfers have to endure the psychological stress of competition as part of their fatigue; Martin has the same stress plus the added stress of pain and risk of serious injury. As he put it, he would gladly trade the cart for a good leg. To perceive that the cart puts him–with his condition–at a competitive advantage is a gross distortion of reality.”

So Casey Martin was able to use his cart in the competition. So was Jack Daly, another well-known pro golfer with an arthritic knee, a condition that – depending on the severity – is most likely covered under the ADA. But when Mr. Daly attempted to compete last week in the British Open, he was told he could not use his golf cart, and the reasons were quite similar to those given to Casey Martin more than 20 years ago. 019/07/06/british-open-organizers-refuse-request-by-daly-to-use-cart/39659051/

The British Open is being held in Northern Ireland, where the disability laws are different than in the United States. And I’m not going to cast any moral or legal judgments about the situation, which I’m sure is more complicated than we know. But I do hope that as a worldwide culture, we are continuing to take a second look at traditions that are not only exclusionary, but may well have outlived their usefulness.