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

SHOULD I DISCLOSE MY MS IN A JOB INTERVIEW?

QUESTION:
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?

ANSWER:
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!
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The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has some excellent perspectives on this. See:
https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Work-and-Home/Employment/Disclosure-Decisions/Should-I-tell

For more information about the ADA and job interviews, see:
https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices/inquiries_medical.cfm

Posted in ADA Title III, disability civil rights

Gay Pride – and Accessibility

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.

Together we are ALL stronger!

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https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/accessibility-planning-pride/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0oEPpu2dgMplMRyO_9Or4nZWRAcYdNED6zvSCbusnAy_b_lOZuz4hZaJc

 

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Posted in ADA Title III, ali stroker, disability civil rights

A Stain on Ali Stroker’s Triumphant Evening

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ali-stroker-tony-disability-community_n_5cfe766be4b0aab91c0966c1

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.”

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/164946/no-pity-by-joseph-p-shapiro/9780812924121

 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.

For more information about ADA requirements, see https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/Guidance2010ADAstandards.htm#titleIII 

 

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The Long Walk to the Coffee Shop

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

https://www.ada.gov/ada_title_I.htm

Nothing on this site is intended to be legal advice.

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Posted in disability civil rights

What the ADA says – and does NOT say.

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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.

MYTH:
If two people are equally qualified to perform a job, the employer must hire the one with the disability.

FACT:
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.

EXAMPLE:
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.


MYTH:
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.

FACT:
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.

EXAMPLE
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.


CONCLUSION

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.

For a great website that spells all this out in detail, go to https://askjan.org

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Nothing on this site is intended to be legal advice.

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Posted in disability civil rights

Michael Volpe: Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk

Michale Volpe testifying before the Oregon Transportation Commission, October 19, 2018
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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.

Thanks Mike, and keep up the wonderful work!

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Nothing on this site is intended to be legal advice.

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Posted in disability civil rights

The Brilliance of the Disability RIghts Movement

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.

https://www.ilusa.com/links/022301ed_roberts.htm


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.

http://www.mn.gov/mnddc/ada-legacy/ada-legacy-moment14.html#navigation


“Deaf President Now!”

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.”


https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/04/03/gallaudet-deaf-president-now-30-anniversary/464611002


The “ Capital Crawl” (top photo)

http://www.historybyzim.com/2013/09/capitol-crawl-americans-with-disabilities-act-of-1990/

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.

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Nothing on this site is intended to be legal advice.

 

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