Posted in Accesibility for People with disabilities, disability civil rights

The Long Walk to the Coffee Shop

My rollator is my freedom. There’s no question about that. It allows me to observe the world while I’m walking, instead of constantly looking down to avoid pebbles or cracks that might (and do) send me reeling.

Liberating as it is, the rollator has its drawbacks. It’s big and bulky, and it’s forever a challenge to figure out where to stow the dang thing when I’m at a concert or in a restaurant. And when I’m walking down the sidewalk, I’m often either parting crowds or zig-zagging to get out of people’s way.

Still, I’m rarely without it and until I retired a couple of years ago, I took it to work every day. And because I happened to work in a government agency that investigates employment discrimination complaints, I knew that my boss and co-workers readily understood that the device was an accommodation to which was entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

But as those of us with MS and other disabilities know, once we get in the door we can still be isolated from the daily workplace rhythm. For example, in the latter years of my career, my boss and anywhere from 5 to 15 co-workers started taking daily morning walks to a nearby coffee shop. They walked three long blocks down a gentle hill in heavy traffic. None of the others had apparent disabilities, and they filled the sidewalk and moved quickly. For safety reasons, as well as the knowledge that I would always end up walking far behind them, I didn’t join these daily coffee fests.

It was always somewhat awkward when I ran into the able-bodied “mob” and saw the forced smiles and downcast eyes, especially on the part of my boss. But I could live with that. The problem was when I began to realize that these daily strolls had sort of been taking the place of staff meetings, and people often used the time to discuss work-related issues. Sometimes those items were important, and I would only learn of them through casual remarks made by others during the day. In addition, as everyone who works in an office knows, these activities can create and deepen connections that are invaluable in the course of a career.

I tried to hint a few times to my boss that the situation made me feel left out, but nothing changed. And after all, what was it I really wanted – to tell them they couldn’t go or that they had to walk slower during the times I joined them? Absolutely not!

As with most workplace accommodations, a little thought and sensitivity could have changed everything – they could have had regular staff meetings and other “accessible” ways for staff to get together. That’s what I told them during my retirement party, and my understanding is that this is exactly what they have started doing.

I won’t pretend for a moment that this was as important as the other workplace battles I fought – such as finding a system to make sure everyone gets down the stairs in the event of a fire. But I’m glad that the next person with mobility limitations that works there will not have to go through this daily indignity. I guess that’s what it means to change the world one “step” at a time.

For more information about workplace accommodation, see

https://www.ada.gov/ada_title_I.htm

Posted in disability civil rights

What the ADA says – and does NOT say.

228E32D9-BAEB-4C0A-8A80-EE29BEDDAB72

The Internet is indeed a mixed blessing. The good news is that there’s an amazing amount of information out there. The bad news is that there’s an amazing amount of information out there.

As an individual with multiple sclerosis, I have of course surfed the web, looking for answers. Once I learned how to separate the truthful and credible information from the wacky and even dangerous stuff, I learned a great deal.

Much the same can be said about the current confusion regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark law that has literally changed the American landscape and allowed so many people with disabilities to participate in society. In my years investigating discrimination cases for the State of Oregon, I encountered a lot of this misinformation and saw how it negatively affected both employers and employees, often pitting them against each other.

Because it is so important that everyone gets it right, I’ve given a couple of examples of some of the most common areas of confusion. In future columns, I’ll try to further separate fact from fiction.

MYTH:
If two people are equally qualified to perform a job, the employer must hire the one with the disability.

FACT:
The ADA does not require that an employer give preference to one applicant over another. The law simply requires that employers don’t discriminate against people because they have disabilities.

Part of nondiscrimination, however, is that if an employer can make changes in the way a job is performed, and this change allows the employee to perform their duties without causing undue hardship to the employer, the employer must make those changes.

EXAMPLE:
Judith and Jonathan both apply for a cashier’s position at the neighborhood drug store. Judith is more experienced and the employer wishes to hire her. Because Judith has arthritis, she must sit down for at least 10 minutes every hour. There is room for a stool in the cashiering area, and Judith can perform her cashiering duties while sitting. If the employer does not hire Judith because of her arthritis, the employer has likely violated the ADA.


MYTH:
If an employee with a disability cannot do her job, the employer cannot fire her but has to hire someone extra or make other employees do the work.

FACT:
As with anyone else, an individual with a disability does not have an automatic right to stay in a job unless she can actually perform it. But as with the above example on hiring, the employer may have to make adjustments to allow the employee to perform the job.

EXAMPLE
An office receptionist with a spinal deformity cannot sit for more than an hour or so at a time. It would probably be a reasonable accommodation for the employer to let him get up and stretch him legs for a few minutes every hour. This would allow him to do the job, and would result in little or no cost to the employer. But if his condition worsened to the point where he often had to leave his desk in the middle of customer calls and there was no one available to replace him, it would likely become an undue hardship for the employer to tolerate this situation.


CONCLUSION

The ADA challenges both employers and employees to put fresh eyes on workplace tasks and determine whether they can be done in an effective (and possibly non-traditional) way. The law also requires that employers and employees work together to determine the best way for that to happen. The net result is often a workplace where everyone feels more respected.

For a great website that spells all this out in detail, go to https://askjan.org

Posted in disability civil rights

Michael Volpe: Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk

Michale Volpe testifying before the Oregon Transportation Commission, October 19, 2018
______________________

You probably have never thought much about that striped area alongside all disabled parking places. And you also likely haven’t noticed that quite frequently, this space is inhabited by all manner of vehicles – cars, delivery trucks, motorcycles, etc.

No need to feel guilty. There are usually no signs present, so it’s a little hard to tell what exactly that area is for. But as Michael Volpe put it to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) last October 19, those spaces for hm are the difference between being able to leave his vehicle or being a prisoner therein until the obstruction is removed.

Michael has multiple sclerosis, and is unable to move either his arms or legs. In addition, he is legally blind and is gradually losing his ability to talk. But with the help of an assistant, he could not have expressed himself more eloquently when he told the commission of the many times he was unable to find a disabled parking place, only to find that once he did locate one, that side area was blocked by another vehicle. Therefore, he could not get his wheelchair out of his van and was essentially stuck there until the impediment was removed.

In addition to Michael, there were four or five of us at that OTC meeting. Our purpose was to urge them to vote in favor of putting “No Parking” signs in those areas.

Happily, the commission voted unanimously to enact these suggested rule changes. This will be extraordinarily helpful for Michael and other wheelchair users. It will also help him continue to travel around Oregon and do his important work, which has included serving on the State Independent Living Council and the Oregon Disabilities Commission.

As a colleague once wrote about Michael, “While [he] can no longer stand or walk and while his voice must be amplified by a microphone, Mike always stands up for the rights and well-being of others, and his voice is heard loud and clear.” Now he has a better chance of actually arriving at the places where he can talk about the rights of those with disabilities.

Thanks Mike, and keep up the wonderful work!

Posted in disability civil rights

Fighting for Our Rights: the Brilliance of the Disability RIghts Movement

I won’t sugar-coat it: climbing up stairs can be exhausting, embarrassing and dangerous when you have multiple sclerosis. And of course, there’s no point in even trying if you are a wheelchair user.

That’s why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been such a godsend to those of us with MS and other mobility impairments. More and more, we don’t have to gaze up at a store, a government building or a museum and make an instant analysis of whether getting there is worth the often tortuous journey. Thanks to the ADA, there are increasing numbers of ramps and elevators that solve the problem.

But I can’t reflect on the ADA without also mentioning the incredible people and events that made its passage possible. Here are just a few of them:


Ed Roberts, the Rolling Quads and the Independent Living Movement
Like many pioneers of the disability rights movement, Ed Roberts had polio. He was initially denied admission to U.C. Berkeley in 1962, because “We tried cripples before and it didn’t work.”

But Roberts would not be denied. He convinced the administration to admit him and allow him and his iron lung to reside in the campus hospital. Soon, other students in wheelchairs joined him, and the group became known as the “Rolling Quads.”

The Quads helped each other throughout their college years and then extended their assistance to people with disabilities outside of campus, eventually starting the first Center for Independent Living. Similar centers soon sprang up throughout the country.

https://www.ilusa.com/links/022301ed_roberts.htm


The Section 504 Sit-In
Eleven years after Roberts was admitted into Berkeley, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This was the first federal law prohibiting disability discrimination in many businesses and programs. It also requires these entities to make reasonable efforts to accommodate people with disabilities.

But after the fanfare of passage, a strange thing happened: This seminal law was just ignored. Federal officials failed to write the regulations necessary to implement it, and it languished on the books for years.

By 1977, disability activists had had enough. They used a common means of protest at the time – sit-ins. Groups of people gathered at government offices and simply stayed there, demanding that the law be enforced. The longest sit-in was in San Francisco and lasted for five weeks, with some of the demonstrators literally risking their lives by remaining in the building without their attendants or medication. But their efforts paid off – the regulations were implemented and the law was finally put into play.

http://www.mn.gov/mnddc/ada-legacy/ada-legacy-moment14.html#navigation


“Deaf President Now!”

Gallaudet University, located in Washington D.C, was the first U.S. college to focus on deaf and hearing-impaired students. Its academic tranquility was uprooted, however, when the college president resigned and the board selected a hearing individual to replace him.

This so enraged the students, faculty and alumni that they gathered for a massive rally and sit-in, effectively shutting down the school until the new president resigned and a non-hearing individual was hired to replace her.

Many people were awakened to the cause of disability rights by seeing the poignant images on television of demonstrators silently waving signs that said, “deaf president now.”


https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/04/03/gallaudet-deaf-president-now-30-anniversary/464611002


The “ Capital Crawl” (top photo)

http://www.historybyzim.com/2013/09/capitol-crawl-americans-with-disabilities-act-of-1990/

As can be expected, there were many attempts to foil the final passage of the ADA. Just in case anyone needed to be reminded of the prescient law’s significance, something extraordinary happened on the day that Congress was inside the capital, ironing out its final compromises. Right outside, a virtual army of people with disabilities had thrown down their walkers and wheelchairs and proceeded to crawl up the capital steps.

More than any words could do, this symbolized the heroism and unyielding doggedness of the disability civil rights movement. All of us, whether or not we have disabilities, owe them our gratitude for moving this country closer towards true equal opportunity.

Posted in disability civil rights

“When Squirrels Fly”

A few days ago, an airplane full of passengers was sitting on the tarmac in Orlando, Florida, waiting to take off. But there was a two-hour delay while the passengers had to deplane and the police were called.

This is not an uncommon event, but what made this situation unique was the reason it happened. It wasn’t a belligerent passenger, a switch that wouldn’t go off, or a door that wouldn’t close. It was a squirrel.

A woman had tried to bring the squirrel onto the plane, saying it was an emotional support animal (ESA). She had also apparently called ahead and advised the airline that she would be bringing an ESA on board, but she did not say it was a squirrel. The airline pointed to its policy, which states that the only ESA’s allowed on flights are dogs and cats.

It would be short-sighted to just blame this passenger. Assuming that she did call the airlines beforehand, it sounds like she was a victim of yet another miscommunication between airlines and passengers on this issue.

In addition, I wonder about the airline’s policy. Assuming we are talking ESA’s and not service animals, what is the rationale for allowing only cats and dogs on airplanes? Is there medical or psychiatric literature supporting the proposition that these are the only “legitimate” emotional support animals? If so, I have never heard about it.

All of this supports the ever-growing public chorus for airlines to be more specific about their criteria for allowing ESA’s on airplanes. The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently studying the issue and is expected to come out with new regulations in the future.

Let’s hope these regulations do more than just identify the animals that are “suitable” for boarding. It would be useful if they also clarified who is eligible to bring animals on board (people with disabilities), as well as required airlines to train their employees in how to manage both animals and the humans that travel with them.

See article below:

https://www.koin.com/news/national/flight-delayed-due-to-emotional-support-squirrel/1511295119

CARE TO COMMENT?

Posted in Accessibility for people with disabilities, disability civil rights, Mobility Devces

“I decided in that moment I would never be confined again.”

A rollator is a walker with wheels. It is hard to describe the freedom I felt when I first used one.

Rather than walking (often staggering) slowly and always thinking about falling, I was able to actually look up and enjoy (or at least take in!) the world around me as I moved about.

I was no longer at the mercy of some unobservant person who might accidentally knock me down. This was both because I was more stable and because my “wheels” signaled to others to be more careful around me. And I can definitely understand why Heather M. Jones, the writer of the article below, described her first ride in a wheelchair as “like flying down Route 66…”

Lest this sounds too “pollyannaish,” let me assure you that above all, I wish I did not have multiple sclerosis and did not need this device. But since I do, this is one of the things that greatly enhances my quality of life.

And for others who think that something like this (or a cane, a wheelchair or a scooter) might make their lives more manageable, I definitely encourage you to at least give it a test drive!

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/stop-saying-wheelchair-bound_us_5b59f898e4b0de86f494bcfc

Posted in Accesibility for People with disabilities, ADA Title II, Curb cuts, disability civil rights

It’s not just about Bicyles: The City of Portland Will be Building More Curb Cuts

C

IMG_0183

Anyone with mobility problems understands the value of curb cuts. Without them, we are much more vulnerable and unsafe.

We may try to somehow jump our wheelchairs or walkers up onto the curb, or try to use our canes as pole vaults as we “leap” from street to sidewalk. We may try to use the street as an erstwhile sidewalk, or ask a stranger for help. But the most likely thing is that we will simply decide that the danger is not worth the risk and turn back. This is one of the ways that people with disabilities are effectively shut out of  events and activities that are routine for most people.

This kind of dilemma is largely why the AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA) was enacted. One of the ADA’s requirements is that cities build curb cuts into newly-constructed sidewalks or into sidewalks that are being repaired or otherwise altered.

I live in Portland, Oregon, which is famous for being progressive, green and extremely bicycle-friendly. But Portland was recently sued by wheelchair users, who claimed that the city was  not installing enough curb cuts nor adequately maintaining the sidewalks.

Portland has just settled this case for $13 million dollars. Part of the agreement is that the city will construct 1500 curb cuts a year.

We sure can use them!

//www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2018/05/portland_to_settle_with_wheelc.html