Essay/Term paper: Disability in the workplace
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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
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
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,
"...an 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
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
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
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
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,
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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