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Disability in the workplace


"The Americans With Disabilities Act is one of the most significant laws in

American History. The preamble to the law states that it covers 43,000,000

Americans."(Frierson, p.3) Before the Americans With Disabilities Act(A.D.A.)

was passed, employers were able to deny employment to a disabled worker, simply because he or she was disabled. With no other reason other than the persons

physical disability were they turned away or released from a job. The Americans With Disabilities Act prevented this type of discrimination by establishing rules and regulations designed to protect persons with physical disabilities. With a workforce

made up of 43,000,000 people, it is impossible to ignore the impact of

these people. The Americans With Disabilities Act not only opened the door for

millions of Americans to get back into the workplace, it is paving the road

for new facilities in the workplace, new training programs and creating

jobs designed for a disabled society.

I believe the Americans With Disabilities Act is the most important precedent

set in the struggle against all discrimination for persons with disability. In

this paper I will give a brief description of the statutes set by the Americans

With Disabilities Act, pertaining to disabilities in the workplace. I will

then discuss what employers are required to do according to the A.D.A. and some

of the regulations they must abide by. The next section of this paper will

discuss the actual training of employees with disabilities with a highlight on

training programs for workers with mobility and motion disabilities. The

following section of this paper will discuss the economic effects of a

vocational rehabilitation program. Finally this paper will conclude with a

brief discussion of what the measures set by the Americans With Disabilities

Act means to the actual workers and people it benefits.

The Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act has a section devoted to nothing but

practices by employers regarding the treatment of applicants and on staff

workers based on their physical condition or any health problems they may have.

Some of the disabilities included are vision, hearing, motion, or mental

impairments. "Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits

employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities

in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job

training and other terms and conditions of employment"(The Americans With

Disabilities Act). According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, the only

way an employer can refuse to hire an employee based upon a disability is

if that persons disability imposes an undue hardship on the operation

of the employer's business. Then the question arises, what is considered an

undue hardship? The Americans With Disabilities Act states that an undue

hardship is any action that is considered to be in excessive cost to the

employer, or if the reforms are too extensive, substantial, disruptive to the

goings on of the company or anything that would substantially change the

operation of the business.

In addition to this, the Americans With Disabilities Act provides some information on what employers cannot do. For instance the A.D.A. states that

"employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity

of a disability"(The Americans With Disabilities Act). This is a very

important step in that it cancels out any possible internal prejudice the

employer may have despite the regulations set by the A.D.A. For example if the employer has a pre-concieved notion of what he or she believes a disabled person can do, this rule will protect the applicant from such prejudice. Also, the employer

cannot require an applicant take a medical examination before a job is offered.

Furthermore, that a job can only be conditioned based on the results of a medical

exam if those conditions apply to all workers. This aspect is important

because it places all the employees of that company on the same level right

form the beginning.

These measures have been set not only to put persons with disabilities on level

ground with other applicants, it also protects thier rights as to the kind of

treatment they will recieve. Because of this, more and more people with

disabilities are going out and applying for jobs. With the added

assurance and comfort the A.D.A. provides, disabled workers can go out with

confidence and apply for almost any position.

There is a certain classification set by A.D.A. on what constitutes a person

with a disability, that is if the person has a physical or mental disability

that substantially limits a major life activity. Also, in order to be protected by the A.D.A. this person must have a long standing record of this disability and how it impairs his or her life. Once this has been established and the person has been hired there are still other guidelines set by the A.D.A. on how the employer goes about bringing this person into the company.

This can be a very sensitive area for employer, applicant and existing

employees. Because of the fact that the person has a disability, undue assumptions made by all parties involved. For instance, the new employee with the disabilitiy may assume that the existing employees will think that he or she needs help with many trivial things. Or the employer may tell the other workers to watch over this person for a while. What should be happening is what ever happens when any other person comes in for a new job,

that is introductions, respect, and of course training. The guidelines for introducing a disabled worker are manualized in a book entitled "Employers Guide to The Americans With Disabilities Act, Second Edition."

Requirements of the Employer

Probably the most important aspect of hiring a person with a disability is to

determine if that person is qualified to perform the job that he or she is applying for. There is a standard definition of what defines a qualified person, " individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodations, can perform the essential function of the employment position that such individual holds or desires"(Frierson, p. 106). This means that a worker is qualified to hold any job that he or she can perform without an excess of changes to the business itself, as stated by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

There is one aspect of the hiring process that could be mistaken as discrimination, but is not. That is the employer is free to hire the most qualified person for the job. For example, if there are two applicants for a secretarial job, applicant A types 65 words per minute and applicant B, who happens to have a disability only types 50 words per minute, even if the slower typing rate is caused by the disability, the employer should hire applicant A because A is the most qualified for the job. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is no different. Each instance is case sensitive and must be handled accordingly. If there were two applicants for a telephone operator, both are equally qualified but one has a hearing impairment which would require an amplifier placed on the headset. This is not cause for choosing the applicant with no disabilities, for the

reason that a telephone amplifier only costs a few dollars and is not considered to be an excessive accommodation.

In Frierson's book, "Employers Guide to The Americans With Disabilities Act",

There are five practical tips on hiring practices which will keep employers

from violating any laws on hiring practices as stated in the A.D.A.:

1. In determining if a person with a disability can perform the job,

consider only essential tasks of the job.

2. Consider all reasonable accommodations.

3. After applying 1 and 2, treat job applicants with disabilities the same

as applicants without disabilities.

4. Hire the person who is most qualified.

5. Avoid blanket rules. Look at each applicant as an individual.

Decide if the individual is the most qualified to perform the

essential job tasks, after reasonable accommodations are considered.

These steps are very important not only to the disabled worker, but to the

person hiring the worker. This protects the employee's right to choose whomever he deems to be the most qualified. After everything is said and done and the employer selects the most qualified worker, and that worker happens to be disabled, there are some accommodations to the workplace that may have to take place.

Accommodations made for the disabled are essential to that person becoming a

successful team member of any organization, for the reason that it allows this

person to do things independently and without having to wait for assistance.

"The Americans With Disabilities Act requires employers to make: reasonable

accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise

qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee..."(Frierson, p.138). There is a list of reasonable accommodations as stated by the A.D.A., such changes include making existing facilities accessible to those who have a disability. Also acquisition or modification of existing equipment to accommodate all workers. On the other hand, there are no set lists of examples that are considered to be in excess for an employer to provide, however there are some basic guidelines for them to follow when making this decision. For example, the accommodations are too expensive for that

particular company to provide. Also, the accommodation is seen to interfere

with the facility's ability to conduct business. An employer can be charged

with discrimination if that employer claims excess accommodation without researching all the possibilities. An employer should never assume that accommodation is impossible, there is a service provided by the "President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, called the Job Accommodation Network(JAN). JAN has literally tens of thousands of ideas and suggestions on successful changes that have been made to companies"(Frierson, p.165). So now there is no excuse for employers to make about hiring a disabled worker, regardless of the situation.

The first two steps in the addition of a disabled worker are in place, the

hiring and the accommodations. Now there need to be programs in place in order

to effectively train these workers so they can be introduced into the workplace

and become successful.

Training of Employees (with motion disabilities)

Among all the disabilities a person can face these days, whether it be vision,

hearing, physical or mental disabilities, there is one aspect of disability

that tops the list of concern. That is a disability which impairs motion or

mobility of a worker. "Whether it is moving from home to work, form one work

area to another, or traveling long distances, the ability to get there tops

everyone's list of concern"(Tracey, p. 175). When a person has a disability that they never had before, and they find that they cannot get around the way they did before, it can be very traumatic to this individual. For instance it can cause feelings of entrapment and loss of freedom. However with the assistance of a wheelchair and a specially adapted vehicle, this person can regain that lost sense of freedom and begin to re-build some lost self-esteem. Because most jobs out there require some sort of physical or manual labor, a

person with a motion impairment of the arms, hands, legs or fingers can cause

some complications. However with a little effort and possibly imagination of a

few people almost all of these obstacles can be overcome.

There are numerous motion or mobility disabilities that an employer may have to

handle. Some of them are people with amputations, arthritis, brain damage, or

spinal cord injuries. Just because there are some individuals with these and

many other impairments, does not mean they should be denied the same

opportunities as any other person has in the workplace. In most cases there

are some assistive technologies available for companies and employers to take

advantage of. All of these are not considered to be an excess accommodation.

The most obvious of aids available to a disabled person returning to work is a

wheelchair or cane. These provide freedom of movement and independence in and

out of the office. Another very important, and relatively inexpensive modification are the installments of ramps and lifts. If a worker has a disability which prevents him or her from climbing stairs, ramps or lifts are essential. With all of the advancements in modern technology, even a quadriplegic can hold down a job. There are actually innovative programs in place to integrate the use of these workers either in an office setting or in

their own home. As mentioned earlier, freedom of movement is important and without it a disabled person cannot even go out to apply for a job.

This is where vehicle adaptations play a big role in the lives of Americas disabled citizens. Help with making these adaptations to the vehicles of disabled workers can be sought through that persons company. Also there are many vehicle manufacturers that

will re-imberse some of the expense put out by a company.

Personal Impacts made by The A.D.A. Regulations

One of the most important characteristics, we as humans posses is that of

self-respect. And in many cases of disability, individuals were not born with

any particular impairment. Once a disability has taken hold a persons life it

can cause drastic changes in that persons self-concept, self-worth, and the way

that person views the world. Before the Americans With Disabilities Act established a foothold on ending discrimination against persons with disabilities, these valuable citizens could begin to crawl their way out of obscurity and into the light of a completely new world. Regardless of whether or not the A.D.A. is around, disabled citizens are going to apply for positions. They had been doing so for fifty years before the

A.D.A. In that time, the numbers of workers with disabilities grew from a few,

to a few thousand, to a few million. The change in trend is in direct correlation to the A.D.A. and the statutes set by it in the workplace. First of all, Title I of The Americans With Disabilities Act, ends all discrimination against disables workers. This gives an opportunity for some people who might have been to scared to apply, a chance to do otherwise and to do so on equal grounds. It also relieved some of the stress that may have been felt by the employer because the guidelines are very clear and they are very easy to understand.

Also when it comes to the actual job performed by the disabled worker, this

worker wants the opportunity to perform his or her job to the best possible

standards, just like any other worker. This is where the importance of the

special training programs and associations that are designed to aid in this

aspect come into play. Not only are the regulations helpful to the employer and the employee, but a creative person can provide a sense of accomplishment

and even help to create a bond of understanding around all who are involved.

For example, the case of "a potato inspector who was required to core out bad

spots in potatoes. Carpal tunnel syndrome drastically reduced his ability to

perform the task. An adapted potato corer mounted on a table allowed him to

continue working at a cost of less than $33"(Frierson, p.161). It is things

like this that allow persons with disabilities to function as a productive

member of society. Or what is thought to be a productive member, in that this

person can be completely independent both in the home and in the workplace.

Technology, persistence, and understanding makes it all happen.

Now go back and look at the person who had a disability take control of his or

her life. That person is no longer, hiding in the shadows, he is out, proudly

contributing and living his life to the best of his ability. Also this person

can support himself with a regular paycheck, not a government aid or the help

of family and friends. This aspect in particular is of extreme importance to

many disabled Americans. The ability to survive on their own, not having to be

dependent on someone or some group to provide food, clothing or shelter, isn't

that what we all want anyway? That is why the Americans With Disabilities Act

is the most important precedent set in the struggle to end all discrimination against disabled people. Although there will always be some discrimination and

prejudice against all groups in society, at least now one of those groups has

the opportunity to prove themselves in an unforgiving society.


1. The Americans With Disabilities Act Title I, 1994

2. Frierson, James G. EMPLOYERS GUIDE TO THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, SECOND EDITION, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1995

3. Tracey, William R. Training Employees with Diabilities, American

Management Association, 1995


1. The Americans With Disabilities Act Title I, 1994

2. Frierson, James G. EMPLOYERS GUIDE TO THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, SECOND EDITION, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1995

3. Tracey, William R. Training Employees with Diabilities, American

Management Association, 1995

4. Conley, Robert W. The Economics of Vocational Rehabilitation, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965

5. Urbain, Cathleen Supported Employement: A Step by Step Guide,

PACER center 1992

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