By Sarah Lineberry

 

On July 26 1990, President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. This act extends the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, or religion, to include individuals with disabilities. In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the five sections of the ADA specify accommodations that must be made in the workplace, schools, and public spaces to create an accessible environment for people with disabilities[1].

The ADA was amended in 2008 to clarify and expand the definition of disability. Under these amendments, a disability is an impairment or history of an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  This broad definition includes physical and cognitive disabilities, severe and persistent mental illness, substance use disorders, and major medical conditions. The amendments also specify that the designation of disability must be made without considering mitigating factors. For example, a person with hearing loss would still be considered to have a disability, even if their hearing is corrected with hearing aids[2].

For Extraordinary Ventures, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act most directly affects our work. Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities and requires them to provide reasonable accommodations to assist employees with disabilities in doing their jobs. This article of the ADA protects employees with disabilities at all levels of employment practices, including hiring, training, advancement, rates of pay, and

termination. Reasonable accommodations are changes or adjustments to a job or workplace environment that allows an employee with a disability to perform essential job functions. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would cause an undue hardship—an action requiring significant difficulty or expense—to the employer’s business[1].

Unfortunately, passage of the ADA and its amendments have not substantially increased employment for people with disabilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, only 17 percent of people with a disability were working, compared to 65 percent of people without a disability[2]. While complex public assistance policies contribute to this disparity, continued stigma against disability plays a role as well. Employers and business owners worry that accommodations will be complex and costly and that workers with disabilities will be less productive and reliable than employees without disabilities[3].

In the 26 years since the passage of the ADA, various studies have shown these concerns to be unfounded. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) reports that 57% of accommodations cost nothing, with most other accommodations costing about $500[4].  Additionally, in an article in Forbes magazine, employers report that employees with disabilities are extremely reliable and hardworking, with low rates of absenteeism and long tenures[5].

At Extraordinary Ventures, we have seen these findings play out in practice. Simple accommodations like pictorial schedules, detailed instructions that break complex tasks into discrete steps, flexible scheduling, and supporting employees who work with job coaches allow our employees to work efficiently and largely independently. By working with natural allies—The Arc of the Triangle, TEACCH, The Autism Society of North Carolina, and Vocational Rehabilitation—EV has been able to implement these accommodations at little to no cost.

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While there is still work to be done in promoting equality and inclusion for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act represents a huge step forward in the acknowledgement and protection of these individuals. At Extraordinary Ventures, we hope to continue to serve as a model of sharing the gifts of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through innovative supports and accommodations.

 

[1] An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from https://adata.org/factsheet/ADA-overview

[2] AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990, AS AMENDED. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08mark.htm

[3] AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990, AS AMENDED. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08mark.htm

[4] Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary. (2016, June 21). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm

[5] Adler, B. (2010, May 08). Did the Americans With Disabilities Act Hurt Some People With Disabilities? Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.newsweek.com/did-americans-disabilities-act-hurt-some-people-disabilities-71541

[6] Loy, B. (2015). Accommodation and Compliance Series Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://askjan.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html

[7] Owen, J. (2012). The Benefits of Disability in the Workplace. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/judyowen/2012/05/12/a-cost-benefit-analysis-of-disability-in-the-workplace/