ADA Accommodation Stories:
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:
There are entities that do accommodate, and do it graciously:
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:
Having some knowledge can be helpful if an entity is willing but not as informed as it should be:
Self-advocacy may be a useful approach:
Several survey respondents gave examples of successful ADA requests that can be labeled "halfway measures":
Another example of a halfway accommodation:
Some success stories are only temporary:
Success does not necessarily mean lasting success:
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.
Retaliation to a request may be indirect:
Retaliation may be swift and direct:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Some people get worn out by the ADA process:
A not unusual report about an ADA request:
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.
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.
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.
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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