The earthquakes last week in California were scary for everyone. But they had to be particularly terrifying for wheelchair-users and others with mobility difficulties.
Everyone should have a plan for managing floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. But those of us who are more at risk have a special responsibility – to ourselves and our loved ones – to plan ahead.
Fortunately, there are resources available, like the ones cited in this post. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
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.
You have a bulging disc, but your employer still wants you to lift that 50-pound bag of birdseed. Under the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA), can she do that?
While the question may seem pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Whomever you ask (if they know their stuff) is likely to bombard you with strange phrases like “essential functions,” “undue hardship” and “reasonable accommodation.”
And those are just the words. You may also get a strange smattering of initials, such as Title 1, Sec. 504, FMLA and ADAAA.
There is a method to this madness – the phrases/initials actually stand for concepts that may be crucial in getting an answer to your question. But how can you figure it all out?
While there’s no easy answer, there are some computer programs/applications that can help you convert this strange language into meaningful terms. They are no substitute for getting legal advice, but they can at least help you “speak the language.”
One of the best ones is the search portal at the ADA National Network. https://adata.org/ada-document-portal. For example, if you open this link and then enter “reasonable accommodation” into the search engine, you will get many sublinks that explain what it is and how it has been applied to various workplace scenarios. You can also learn whether your condition is likely to be considered a “disability” under the law, as well as the different ways to “reasonably accommodate” it.
Knowledge is power, and the ADA National Network is quite a powerful tool to help you better understand disability law.
(And by the way, ADAAG stands for ADA Accessibility Guidelines and GINA stands for the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act. If you want more information, you know where to look!)
Okay, I’ll admit it – on some level I wanted to look like
Barbie. Even though I intellectually knew that she wasn’t real and didn’t resemble
any person I knew, that skinny piece of painted plastic still had the power to
make me feel woefully inferior, if I let it. There was something about her
silent perfection that could not help but scream “pretty,” “hip” and “athletic”
to me, especially when she was dressed up to go hiking or rollerblading with
the ever-hunky Ken.
Of course, most children go through something like this as
we are growing up. And because I did not develop MS until well into adulthood, I
at least did not have the additional burden of incorporating a cane, a walker
or a wheelchair into my developing self-image. That would only have made things
more difficult and infinitely more confusing.
And it’s not just Barbie. Traditionally, images have abounded on television and in books and movies about “desirable” people, who almost never include people with disabilities (unless we are shown as unrealistically cheery and inspirational or as sinister and even evil, driven mad by our disabilities).
But it’s refreshing to see that things are slowly but
steadily changing. There are more television shows, movies and even commercials
that feature people with disabilities as just regular people – because that’s
all we really are.
And it was good to read that later in 2019, Mattel is going
to introduce new Barbie dolls that will look a lot more like real people. As
shown in the above photo and accompanying CNN article, the dolls will be varied
in their bodies, hair, skin and clothes, just like we all are. And significantly,
one of the dolls is a wheelchair user and another one has a removable prosthetic
So while the new Barbie is not going to feed the world, stop global warming or eliminate all discrimination, she can at least provide a little reassurance to children with disabilities who want to feel a little more connected to a very confusing world.
UPDATE: I’m now in
my 60’s and have had multiple sclerosis for about three decades. I haven’t played with dolls for a long time,
and I think I’m pretty much over “Barbie Envy.”
But when I feel particularly frustrated with my limping and tripping, it gives me some measure of comfort to see more and more people like me represented on television, in movies and elsewhere in the public domain. It reminds me that “real” people are not (usually) made of plastic!
You asked whether your employer can terminate you because you have MS. The short answer is no, of course he can’t – but proving it can be very difficult.
Most employers will not go up and tell you they’re firing you because of your MS. The conversation is usually more along the lines that you are working too sloppily or too slowly, and perhaps causing others to take some of your load.
If this is the first you’ve heard of the problem, you might question why it has not been mentioned on previous performance evaluations or in workplace conferences. Although it is usually not illegal to fail to give employee warnings, it might violate some employer policies and it often casts the employer in an unfavorable light.
But let’s say that you agree that you are working slower than you would like to, and it’s because of your MS fatigue. To avoid having the above conversation at all, you might want to approach your employer early on and talk about a “reasonable accommodation.” One of the most important parts of the ADA is the requirement that upon request, an employer must work with an employee to determine if some modification of the job can be made, which will still allow the employee to perform the “essential functions” of the job and which will not cause the employer an “undue hardship.”
While these terms sound awfully technical (and they are!), they are the key to understanding both employees’ rights and employer obligations under the ADA. For example, maybe all you need is an opportunity to rest for 2 or 3 minutes every hour. You might want to consider having a conversation with your employer, requesting that this or some similar adjustment be made.
Before you do, however, I would strongly recommend that you discuss this with your attorney. There are both advantages and disadvantages of putting your MS out there like that, and it should be a strategic decision. Below is some information that will help.
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.