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Read Stories of Accommodation Gone Wrong



ADA Accommodation Stories:
The Categories

Sometimes accommodations will be provided, but are simply done wrong. How many times do requests get repeated in order to get it done right?

Last month, we published Stories of Accommodation Gone Wrong, our initial report on the over 100 surveys readers had submitted on their experiences seeking and getting -- or not getting -- accommodations they requested under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

John Jay Frank, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University who has been conducting similar research, has been organizing the data from your responses. And patterns and themes are emerging.

Sometimes, requests for accommodation are successful. The process can work.

But many times the accommodation provided is in truth only a 'halfway' accommodation. And retaliation is a real possibility. It may be hard to prove, but it happens enough that Frank sees it as worth further examination.

Another category that emerged from your responses showed that even today, nearly 15 years after thhe law, many companies and organizations still don't understand what they're supposed to do, and need education.

It also seems, from the data we received, that many people with severe disabilities simply avoid the accommodation request process and do "not go where they are not wanted." People who have to request accommodation a lot simply get worn out. Often getting an accommodation takes a long time -- too long to wait for.

Below are some of your responses, organized into 6 categories -- and 28 sub-categories -- by Dr. Frank.

Category I -- Successful requests

The ADA request process can work:
(1) "I requested a later starting time. The accommodation was provided, this was handled before I started the job."

There are entities that do accommodate, and do it graciously:
(2) "I requested a wheelchair and assistance to reach my connecting flight(s) and was treated with respect. Staff were waiting with wheelchair(s) and motorized cart(s) to get me to my connecting flight(s) on time."

Sometimes the ADA is often only adhered to when someone complains. This is a burden to go through, but these examples also reveal what types of requests will, eventually be provided:
(3) "I complained to DOJ and HHS about inaccessible restroom in a medical facility -- it was resolved promptly.

Having some knowledge can be helpful if an entity is willing but not as informed as it should be:
(4) "I would either make my request in writing and/or in person for a sign language interpreter for an event or meeting that I am attending. Most of the time, they ask me where they can find an interpreter. I would provide them with resources of local interpreter agencies."

Self-advocacy may be a useful approach:
(5) "I needed to make multiple calls and finally called the high school district superintendent and quoted the ADA sections applicable. "

Several survey respondents gave examples of successful ADA requests that can be labeled "halfway measures":
(6) "I requested a wheelchair accessible bathroom in the education building at the University. This was (eventually) granted in the form of a unisex accessible bathroom, with enough room for personal attendants."

Another example of a halfway accommodation:
(7) "I was not ejected from the hotel, but I was requested to leave and/or told I could not have the service animal in the hotel. The situation was resolved this year for this dog only and only for certain areas of the hotel. It did not apply to my room which was never cleaned because cleaning staff refused to do so because of the dog's presence."

Some success stories are only temporary:
(8) "A handicapped parking sign was posted, but within a week the sign was removed."

Success does not necessarily mean lasting success:
(9) "Each time I requested accommodation in the workplace it was granted, but it was eventually ignored by employers."

Category II -- Retaliation

There may be repercussions to making a request. This may be unofficial and difficult to prove, and if people lie about what happened, it sometimes seems as though any excuse will be accepted. The result is that the value of requests are diminished and requesters are discouraged.
(10) "They finally raised my desk, but complained that I was being a trouble maker . . . I was punished for not being a team player . . . the harassment started and it was relentless so I chose to remove the Service Dog . . . the driver of that truck complained he did not know it was illegal to block the ramp . . ."

Retaliation to a request may be indirect:
(11) "After I explained the problem, I was given weekly written warnings regarding errors that I had made. Before that, I had received awards for my positive attitude and successful work."

Retaliation may be swift and direct:
(12) "The employer resolved my request for accommodations by terminating my employment."

In this story the person tries to address two issues that may not really be required by the ADA, but it highlights common misconceptions about the ADA. One: a person is not required to inform employers of a disability, until a request is made. Two: even having proof of disability discrimination and retaliation may be of little or no value.
(13) "I have asked my employers for a phone with higher volume control. Granted, they hired me not knowing about my hearing loss, but I did not feel a need to tell them because my job was not answering phones. Instead of getting these phones they ignore my request and then decrease my hours or get frustrated with me I feel that one of the main reasons I was fired from a job was because of my hearing loss, but I had/have no proof of this."

Based on published data, the following report is hard to believe. It may be that these were actually resolved after a threat to sue, rather than an actual lawsuit. Lawsuit data for 2002 shows only 429 lawsuits filed, only 14 won by the individual with the disabilty. Mediation and settlement are more successful than actual lawsuits. The problem with this approach is that settlements do not provide much precedent for future cases.

(14) "Most of my requests get resolved by me suing the businesses or local governments. . ."

As I read these stories I am mindful that I am exhausted and looking forward to a week's vacation. Sometimes we discount access to recreation facilities as being less important and not related to that BIG ADA ISSUE, "employment." Recreation is a vitally important aspect of life:

(15) "One still unresolved request -- heading for a lawsuit -- is a request for accommodation in a county park campground."

Category III -- The need for education of covered entities

Educating staff about the ADA is required by law:
(16) "Even when I explain that I can't see, they still point and give visual cues like 'when you get to the hallway over there, you'll see a sign up above you and it will tell you where to go.' "

While it may be easier to recognize a request regarding someone who is blind, or who uses a wheelchair, or who is deaf, education is needed regarded all that the ADA covers. I have been told by some very high level and well educated individuals in the field of services to people who are blind that they thought the ADA only related to people who use wheelchairs.
(17) "Once the circumstances were explained they were all too happy to accommodate my request. I would never have thought to request accommodation under the ADA for a mental health issue."

Sometimes accommodations will be provided, but are simply done wrong. How many times do requests get repeated in order to get it done right? Survey respondents pointed out some areas were they were uncertain.
(18) "I complained about a curb ramp near my home. There was a lip, and it wasn't flush with the street. The City made an alteration that looks to be just adding some asphalt rather than constructing a new curb ramp. I could use it, but I don't think it complies with the ADA."

Another variation on "not done right" is the unfulfilled promise to do it. It should be noted that if you sue, you will likely not win:
(19) "Unless you have the money to go through with a lawsuit, they don't care that they're breaking the law. My (former) college promised me adequate access -- moving my classes to buildings without stairs -- and then reneged."

People are creative, but the excuses to deflect requests are not endless. We can learn from each other what to expect and how to respond before we even make a request.
(20) "The usual response is to ignore me. Responses include, 'We're grand-fathered.' or 'We don't want to lose any parking spaces by providing accessible spaces.' or 'We have lots of people in wheelchairs stay here and no one has ever complained before.' or 'No one in a wheelchair ever comes here and if they did we would be happy to assist them.' These are the polite responses. I won't go into the other kind."

Category IV -- Avoidance of the ADA process by people with severe disabilities

A simple technology "explanation" often works to deflect requests. For many people with disabilities, it is a reasonable choice to simply ignore their rights under the ADA and not to go where they are not wanted.
(21) "I was told that the Information Technology department or the manager said that due to security reasons they could not use my software. I did not file complaints with EEOC during any of these situations. I got on with my life and continued to look for employers who were interested in working with me."

Some people get worn out by the ADA process:
(22) "Ten years of self-advocacy strife boggles the mind and challenges the spirit. I find it difficult to sort out the innumerable repetitious humiliations, contemptible rudeness and obnoxious boorishness from one another‹ they all seem to run together."

A not unusual report about an ADA request:
(23) "It took three years."

Sometimes the ones we would expect to know the most and do the best are the worst offenders -which makes the frustration even greater (24) "I worked for the State Department of Rehabilitation for many years and had to constantly wage war fare to obtain the accommodations I needed for my disability."

Colleges were covered by Section 504 twenty years before the ADA became law -- and yet they still discriminate. The entity in this case knew this person could not see to read, but expected him or her to write with a pencil. This example makes the "education" solution to the university's failure to abide by the ADA seem remote, unrealistic, and unobtainable.
(25) "Computer labs were never made accessible. I made requests in each case, but never got the access technology installed during the quarter in question. I am blind, I rarely write more than a note on a greeting card by hand, yet every student must take a graduate writing test of penmanship, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and exposition. I expected to be able to use at least a computer with speech output. I was furious to learn that no accommodations were allowed, due to school policy. I was given a few pencils, a blue book, and a staffer read the essay question."

Category V -- Difficult data:

The survey requested stories of requests for accommodation under the ADA. Some people confuse services for people with disabilities with ADA requests. A state rehabilitation service makes a choice as to what to provide a client. It may be appropriate to challenge that choice and fight for something, but that service, or that complaint are not necessarily an ADA request for accommodation. (26) "Most of my difficulties have actually been with the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation."

On the other hand, if services are offered, they are required to be accessible; asking that they be accessible is an ADA request. Those are examples of ADA requests for accommodation. It is not uncommon to hear someone suggest there is a difference between "legally" and "meaningfully" accessible. A similar expression is "the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law." There is no need to suggest a disconnect between legal and meaningful and between the letter and the spirit of the law. These may be just brazen noncompliance. These are not unknown they are just unpublicized and not dealt with. They could be an undue hardship on the entity and therefore not required by the ADA, but almost no test of that ever takes place.
(27) "I tried to get services from the Department of Rehabilitation. None of their offices are legally or meaningfully accessible. None of the contracted service providers I was sent to were accessible. The College campus I was sent to was not accessible. The department's response to my complaints? I was denied any further services. Cut off totally. I even had coffee with the disabled Director of this state department. When I asked her if it embarrassed her at all that the offices aren't accessible. Her response was a quick and final 'Yah, I know.' "

There is also a difference between barriers that create disability that have existed before the ADA, and barriers in the request for accommodation process. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between stories about entities who fail to do what is required of them and those who fail to respond effectively to a request for accommodation in a situation where there is honestly no good solution

Another type of data that is difficult to handle are those that go into too much detail. When reading or listening to "he said, she said," or, "then this happened and then that happened." it is easy to get lost. For research into the accommodation process, the story may be complete with just the disability type, what was requested, from what entity, and what was provided, or not provided, and was it effective, and provided willingly.

Category VI -- Alternatives to 'equality'

This next example is not as clear as some others. It is an area that is open to debate. We may think that the ADA goal is "equal" access. But some people with severe disabilities get worn out sooner than their non-disabled colleagues. Some advocates may vehemently object to this, but we are not all equal. We cannot endure the wear and tear as well as those who do not have a severe disability can -- even with accommodation. Does that mean we should not be allowed to work at all?

(28) "My request to officially work less hours during the day was refused. I wanted to leave work early because I was worn out and because I really don't trust my driving if I worked a full day."

Posted Nov. 17, 2004.

John Jay Frank Ph.D. is a research scientist with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University.

Frank's study, The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the Employment of Individuals who are Blind or Have Severe Visual Impairments, Part 1: Elements of the ADA Accommodation Request Process, can be purchased from the RRTC for $20 and is available in print and on cassette or computer diskette. Mail your check or purchase order, or fax a purchase order, to MSU-RRTC, P.O. Box 6189, Mississippi State, MS 39762 PH: (662) 325-7825, FAX: (662) 325-8989. They also accept Visa and Mastercard credit card orders.

Read John Jay Frank's initial article for Ragged Edge, Stories of Accommodation Gone Wrong

Read John Jay Frank's initial article for Ragged Edge, Time to gather our own evidence.

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