In the article below, Bani Amor from CNN puts forth some excellent ideas about making PRIDE and other events accessible to everyone.
We all know there are a lot of things to protest these days. But as the recent PRIDE events have reminded us, there is also much reason to celebrate.
As someone who believes in protest as well as celebration, I try to be involved in both whenever I can. But since I also need a cane to get around, there are a few things I have to find out before I can attend such events. If we’re going to be inside, are there ramps and/or elevators? How much walking might I need to do, and is it possible for me to find places to rest?
Although sometimes I’m able to find answers to these questions beforehand, in most cases I find that I need to just go to the event to figure out if I can safely participate. And sometimes I discover, either privately or publicly, that it is not a safe venue for me.
In the article attached below, Bani Amor provides some great ideas about including people with disabilities in these sorts of public events.
In 1988, when Joseph P. Shapiro was a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, he was asked to write a news story about a gentleman who had won the “Man of the Year” award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“They had put him up in a hotel across the street from the club where he was to be feted,” Mr. Shapiro writes. “But getting across the street had been bizarrely difficult. There were no curb cuts at the end of the block, making his hotel a remote island in the middle of Manhattan. Taxicabs could not pick up the man’s heavy battery-powered wheelchair. Buses lacked wheelchair lifts. So the MS Society had hired a van with a special hydraulic lift simply to transport this man across the street.”
Fortunately, that strange street drama is much less likely to happen today, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that most newly-constructed and remodeled sidewalks install curb cuts.
But another bizarre situation happened last week, again in Manhattan. As mentioned in my previous post, Ali Stroker won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma. As the first wheelchair user to win a Tony, she represented yet another milestone for people with disabilities.
There are photos of Ms Stroker beaming and waving her award in the air, encouraging other people with disabilities to go after their dreams. But shortly thereafter, the news reported that Ms. Stroker had not been able to accept her award on stage, because there was no ramp going from the audience to the stage level. In addition, she was not able to join the rest of the cast onstage as they collectively accepted the award for Best Broadway Revival.
Does the ADA cover this situation? As with sidewalks, there are numerous accessibility requirements for theaters, but they generally must be undergoing new construction or remodeling for these requirements to kick in. For situations where there is no new construction or remodeling, accommodation must still be made if it is “readily achievable.” “Readily achievable is defined as “not requiring much difficulty or expense.”
We don’t know the difficulties involved in installing a ramp in that particular location, but it seems likely that this would have been readily achievable. That argument is strengthened by the fact that a ramp is specifically listed in the regulations as an example of a readily achievable accommodation.
But maybe the case will never have to be argued. The public reaction to Ms. Stroker’s isolation is probably more powerful than any court ruling would be, and I’m sure the theater will not want this publicity again WHEN the next performer with a disability is up for an award.
My rollator is my freedom. There’s no question about that. It allows me to observe the world while I’m walking, instead of constantly looking down to avoid pebbles or cracks that might (and do) send me reeling.
Liberating as it is, the rollator has its drawbacks. It’s big and bulky, and it’s forever a challenge to figure out where to stow the dang thing when I’m at a concert or in a restaurant. And when I’m walking down the sidewalk, I’m often either parting crowds or zig-zagging to get out of people’s way.
Still, I’m rarely without it and until I retired a couple of years ago, I took it to work every day. And because I happened to work in a government agency that investigates employment discrimination complaints, I knew that my boss and co-workers readily understood that the device was an accommodation to which I was entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But as those of us with MS and other disabilities know, once we get in the door we can still be isolated from the daily workplace rhythm. For example, in the latter years of my career, my boss and anywhere from 5 to 15 co-workers started taking daily morning walks to a nearby coffee shop. They walked three long blocks down a gentle hill in heavy traffic. None of the others had apparent disabilities, and they filled the sidewalk and moved quickly. For safety reasons, as well as the knowledge that I would always end up walking far behind them, I didn’t join these daily coffee fests.
It was always somewhat awkward when I ran into the able-bodied “mob” and saw the forced smiles and downcast eyes, especially on the part of my boss. But I could live with that. The problem was when I began to realize that these daily strolls had sort of been taking the place of staff meetings, and people often used the time to discuss work-related issues. Sometimes those items were important, and I would only learn of them through casual remarks made by others during the day. In addition, as everyone who works in an office knows, these activities can create and deepen connections that are invaluable in the course of a career.
I tried to hint a few times to my boss that the situation made me feel left out, but nothing changed. And after all, what was it I really wanted – to tell them they couldn’t go or that they had to walk slower during the times I joined them? Absolutely not!
As with most workplace accommodations, a little thought and sensitivity could have changed everything – they could have had regular staff meetings and other “accessible” ways for staff to get together. That’s what I told them during my retirement party, and my understanding is that this is exactly what they have started doing.
I won’t pretend for a moment that this was as important as the other workplace battles I fought – such as finding a system to make sure everyone gets down the stairs in the event of a fire. But I’m glad that the next person with mobility limitations that works there will not have to go through this daily indignity. I guess that’s what it means to change the world one “step” at a time.
For more information about workplace accommodation, see
The Internet is indeed a mixed blessing. The good news is that there’s an amazing amount of information out there. The bad news is that there’s an amazing amount of information out there.
As an individual with multiple sclerosis, I have of course surfed the web, looking for answers. Once I learned how to separate the truthful and credible information from the wacky and even dangerous stuff, I learned a great deal.
Much the same can be said about the current confusion regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark law that has literally changed the American landscape and allowed so many people with disabilities to participate in society. In my years investigating discrimination cases for the State of Oregon, I encountered a lot of this misinformation and saw how it negatively affected both employers and employees, often pitting them against each other.
Because it is so important that everyone gets it right, I’ve given a couple of examples of some of the most common areas of confusion. In future columns, I’ll try to further separate fact from fiction.
If two people are equally qualified to perform a job, the employer must hire the one with the disability.
The ADA does not require that an employer give preference to one applicant over another. The law simply requires that employers don’t discriminate against people because they have disabilities.
Part of nondiscrimination, however, is that if an employer can make changes in the way a job is performed, and this change allows the employee to perform their duties without causing undue hardship to the employer, the employer must make those changes.
Judith and Jonathan both apply for a cashier’s position at the neighborhood drug store. Judith is more experienced and the employer wishes to hire her. Because Judith has arthritis, she must sit down for at least 10 minutes every hour. There is room for a stool in the cashiering area, and Judith can perform her cashiering duties while sitting. If the employer does not hire Judith because of her arthritis, the employer has likely violated the ADA.
If an employee with a disability cannot do her job, the employer cannot fire her but has to hire someone extra or make other employees do the work.
As with anyone else, an individual with a disability does not have an automatic right to stay in a job unless she can actually perform it. But as with the above example on hiring, the employer may have to make adjustments to allow the employee to perform the job.
An office receptionist with a spinal deformity cannot sit for more than an hour or so at a time. It would probably be a reasonable accommodation for the employer to let him get up and stretch him legs for a few minutes every hour. This would allow him to do the job, and would result in little or no cost to the employer. But if his condition worsened to the point where he often had to leave his desk in the middle of customer calls and there was no one available to replace him, it would likely become an undue hardship for the employer to tolerate this situation.
The ADA challenges both employers and employees to put fresh eyes on workplace tasks and determine whether they can be done in an effective (and possibly non-traditional) way. The law also requires that employers and employees work together to determine the best way for that to happen. The net result is often a workplace where everyone feels more respected.
Michale Volpe testifying before the Oregon Transportation Commission, October 19, 2018
You probably have never thought much about that striped area alongside all disabled parking places. And you also likely haven’t noticed that quite frequently, this space is inhabited by all manner of vehicles – cars, delivery trucks, motorcycles, etc.
No need to feel guilty. There are usually no signs present, so it’s a little hard to tell what exactly that area is for. But as Michael Volpe put it to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) last October 19, those spaces for hm are the difference between being able to leave his vehicle or being a prisoner therein until the obstruction is removed.
Michael has multiple sclerosis, and is unable to move either his arms or legs. In addition, he is legally blind and is gradually losing his ability to talk. But with the help of an assistant, he could not have expressed himself more eloquently when he told the commission of the many times he was unable to find a disabled parking place, only to find that once he did locate one, that side area was blocked by another vehicle. Therefore, he could not get his wheelchair out of his van and was essentially stuck there until the impediment was removed.
In addition to Michael, there were four or five of us at that OTC meeting. Our purpose was to urge them to vote in favor of putting “No Parking” signs in those areas.
Happily, the commission voted unanimously to enact these suggested rule changes. This will be extraordinarily helpful for Michael and other wheelchair users. It will also help him continue to travel around Oregon and do his important work, which has included serving on the State Independent Living Council and the Oregon Disabilities Commission.
As a colleague once wrote about Michael, “While [he] can no longer stand or walk and while his voice must be amplified by a microphone, Mike always stands up for the rights and well-being of others, and his voice is heard loud and clear.” Now he has a better chance of actually arriving at the places where he can talk about the rights of those with disabilities.
I won’t sugar-coat it: climbing up stairs can be exhausting, embarrassing and dangerous when you have multiple sclerosis. And of course, there’s no point in even trying if you are a wheelchair user.
That’s why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been such a godsend to those of us with MS and other mobility impairments. More and more, we don’t have to gaze up at a store, a government building or a museum and make an instant analysis of whether getting there is worth the often tortuous journey. Thanks to the ADA, there are increasing numbers of ramps and elevators that solve the problem.
But I can’t reflect on the ADA without also mentioning the incredible people and events that made its passage possible. Here are just a few of them:
Ed Roberts, the Rolling Quads and the Independent Living Movement
Like many pioneers of the disability rights movement, Ed Roberts had polio. He was initially denied admission to U.C. Berkeley in 1962, because “We tried cripples before and it didn’t work.”
But Roberts would not be denied. He convinced the administration to admit him and allow him and his iron lung to reside in the campus hospital. Soon, other students in wheelchairs joined him, and the group became known as the “Rolling Quads.”
The Quads helped each other throughout their college years and then extended their assistance to people with disabilities outside of campus, eventually starting the first Center for Independent Living. Similar centers soon sprang up throughout the country.
The Section 504 Sit-In
Eleven years after Roberts was admitted into Berkeley, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This was the first federal law prohibiting disability discrimination in many businesses and programs. It also requires these entities to make reasonable efforts to accommodate people with disabilities.
But after the fanfare of passage, a strange thing happened: This seminal law was just ignored. Federal officials failed to write the regulations necessary to implement it, and it languished on the books for years.
By 1977, disability activists had had enough. They used a common means of protest at the time – sit-ins. Groups of people gathered at government offices and simply stayed there, demanding that the law be enforced. The longest sit-in was in San Francisco and lasted for five weeks, with some of the demonstrators literally risking their lives by remaining in the building without their attendants or medication. But their efforts paid off – the regulations were implemented and the law was finally put into play.
Gallaudet University, located in Washington D.C, was the first U.S. college to focus on deaf and hearing-impaired students. Its academic tranquility was uprooted, however, when the college president resigned and the board selected a hearing individual to replace him.
This so enraged the students, faculty and alumni that they gathered for a massive rally and sit-in, effectively shutting down the school until the new president resigned and a non-hearing individual was hired to replace her.
Many people were awakened to the cause of disability rights by seeing the poignant images on television of demonstrators silently waving signs that said, “deaf president now.”
As can be expected, there were many attempts to foil the final passage of the ADA. Just in case anyone needed to be reminded of the prescient law’s significance, something extraordinary happened on the day that Congress was inside the capital, ironing out its final compromises. Right outside, a virtual army of people with disabilities had thrown down their walkers and wheelchairs and proceeded to crawl up the capital steps.
More than any words could do, this symbolized the heroism and unyielding doggedness of the disability civil rights movement. All of us, whether or not we have disabilities, owe them our gratitude for moving this country closer towards true equal opportunity.
Few, if any, presidents were as beloved as Franklin Roosevelt.
Roosevelt came to office at a very volatile time in our nation’s history. He is credited with lifting our country out of the Great Depression, as well as rallying the country to defeat a murderous despot.
Roosevelt succeeded largely because of his intellect, his determination and his boundless charisma. Families would crowd around the radio during his “fireside chats” and were comforted and encouraged by what he said.
But few knew the lengths he went to conceal the fact that he could not walk. He had contracted polio at age 39 and his legs were virtually useless. In reality, he struggled to get in and out of cars, often used a wheelchair and even resorted to being carried or crawling on the floor when necessary.
The press did not photograph him during the times he was struggling to move. This was apparently never a stated policy; photographers just put their cameras down during those moments.
But a rare video has just been released that actually shows Roosevelt walking. How did this video come about? It was not taken by the press but by a tourist, who was unaware of this practice and who just kept his camera rolling.
In viewing this video, one is struck by how effective Roosevelt was in hiding his disability. He had undergone years of physical therapy and body building, and had developed the strength to swing his legs forward with his upper body strength. You also can see in the video that he supported himself by holding onto his bodyguard with one arm and a cane in the other. When he reached the podium, he clung to it and his bodyguard discretely left.
When one understands this about Roosevelt, he is even more inspiring. But it’s impossible not to wonder what he also might have accomplished if he didn’t (justifiably) feel the need to put so much time and energy into disguising his disability. And it’s fascinating to ponder if he would handle things the same way today.
You’ve probably been reading about or experiencing the increasing presence of animals on airplanes. They range from the bizarre (an unsuccessful attempt to bring a peacock on board) to tragic (a passenger believing she had to flush her hamster down the toilet, a dog suffocating in a storage bin).
All of this is in reference to the federal law that requires airlines to accommodate passengers with disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) defines “disability” in the same way as does the Americans with Disabilities Act: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. That legalese is another way of saying that the limitation must be significant – a temporary illness or even a broken leg are usually not serious enough to fit within the legal definition.
But those lines have become increasingly blurred by press coverage and public discourse, and the prevailing belief now seems to be that ANYONE can have a service or emotional support animal on a plane – just because they can get a doctor to say that they need one.
I and others have written extensively about the damage this does to people with real disabilities who genuinely need those animals to help them while they are on a plane and maneuvering through he rest of life.
Fortunately, as the attached article shows, several airlines are examining their policies on passengers with animals. And there is still time to give your input to the Department of Transportation on this issue.
As explained previously, these “getting real” posts are attempts to shed daylight on some of the wildly mistaken beliefs about disability laws. In today’s piece, I’ll talk about the myths and realities of illegal drugs at work.
Even if an employer has a policy prohibiting the use of drugs in the workplace, that employer cannot terminate an employee if he claims that he is a drug addict. This is because drug addiction is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Actually, current users of illegal drugs are NOT protected under the ADA. Neither are kleptomaniacs, pyromaniacs, compulsive gamblers or people with sexual behavior disorders.
This may seem strange, because there is little doubt that these conditions would ordinarily fit the legal definition of “disability.” So why are they excluded? The reason, pure and simple, is politics. The drafters of the ADA knew they would face an even bigger battle if certain stigmatized activities were legally protected, so they simply wrote them out of the law.
This may also help explain why alcoholics are protected under the ADA. Regardless of the damage alcohol can do, it is still legal and hence occupies a higher “status” than other addicting drugs.
BUT, REALITY CHECK!
Even if alcoholism is protected under the ADA, an employer can still discipline and even terminate an employee who is under the influence on the job. (The employer should have a policy stating this, of course.)
There were actually some early cases where terminated employees claimed that the ADA allowed them to be drunk on the job. The courts did not buy that, however, and the usual accommodation is to give the employee time off for treatment.
Finally, please keep in mind that although current drug users are not legally protected, former users are. The idea is that the addict who has gone through treatment and is ready to return to work should be able to do so without being stigmatized.