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October 25 2007

Spinal Cord Injury Information & Resource Directory

Dad on Wheels

The ADA and You!
By
Leslie A. Johnson, BSW 

     What does the ADA mean to you?  There are many things taken into consideration with the ADA.  Factors can be how does the ADA relate to your situation, it can be employment, accommodations, discrimination, parking, or violation of your civil rights as protected under the United States Constitution.    When I first think of the American’s with Disability Act (ADA), I think of “reasonable accommodations,” which is stated in the ADA.  A business must make “reasonable accommodations.”  What are reasonable accommodations?  According to the Department of Justice (2007), a business must make accommodations or adjustments to the work environment to enable a person with a disability to perform his or her task or job function.  Reasonable accommodations also include certain rights and privileges to people with disabilities in employment to those of a person whom are not disabled.  Did you get that definition of “reasonable accommodations?”  Do you understand?  If not, you are not alone in the confusion and gray areas of “reasonable accommodations.” 

     The ADA protects individuals with a disability with certain civil rights and privileges that society equally enjoys and protects.  The ADA includes businesses of small and corporate make their buildings accessible to individuals with a disability.  Businesses of all types, under the ADA law, are suppose to remove barriers, make entrances, facilities, bathrooms, and architectural accessible to the disabled.  For example, a business must provide an accessible way for a person in a wheelchair to enter the building.  Accessibility includes, but not limited too, doorknobs, doors, aisles that are too narrow, steps to any selling space, and parking spaces to any business that provides goods and services to the public.  The ADA provides a guide to businesses called the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which is in the ADA Title III regulations. 

     The Accessible Design specially explains in words and dimensions to assist businesses in any type of barrier and accommodations.  The guide shows how much a grade a wheelchair ramp is required under the law, how high the sink and toilet, the turning space in a bathroom, how many parking spaces, and even explains how heavy a door is required under the ADA.  Let me give you a few examples:  Accessible Parking is often   overlooked.  Under the ADA, a business, when parking is available to the public, a designated parking spot for the disabled.  According to the Department of Justice (2007),

When parking is provided for the public, designated accessible parking spaces must be provided, if doing so is readily achievable. An accessible parking space must have pace for the vehicle and an additional space located either to the right or to the left of the space that serves as an access aisle. This aisle is needed to permit a person using a wheelchair, electric scooter, or other mobility device to get out of their car or van. A sign with the international symbol of accessibility must be located in front of the parking space and mounted high enough so a vehicle parked in the space does not hide it. Accessible parking spaces should be the spaces closest to the accessible entrance and be located on level ground. If it is not readily achievable to locate accessible parking in the closest spaces due to sloped pavement or other existing conditions, then the closest level area should be selected. An accessible route must be provided between the access aisle and the accessible building entrance. This route must have no steps or steeply sloped surfaces and it must have a firm, stable, slip-resistant surface.  Van accessible spaces must have an access aisle that is at least eight-feet wide and be designated by a sign with the international symbol and "van accessible." There should be a vertical clearance of at least 98 inches on the vehicular route to the space, at the parking space, and along the vehicular route to an exit. 

To sum the quote above, businesses must provide an accessible parking spot and accessible route from the parking space to the entrance.  The parking space must have a space provided for a person in a wheelchair adequately to open the door and get the wheelchair out of the automobile or van.  How many times has a person, who is not disabled with no permit of any kind, park on the line of the accessible parking spot, or parks too close to the accessible van and the person with the disability cannot get his or her doors open to let down the ramp?  This author has went into a business and came back out just to see that someone has parked his or her car too close over the line and I cannot get my van’s doors open.  I have to hunt down the owner or have a stranger drive my van and move it, so I can open the doors.  I believe the ADA left this part out of the law and law enforcement or security agencies do not enforce the laws in many cities, counties, and state.  Wheelchair vans clearly state on the door, please do not park within so many feet, because of a wheelchair lift. 

     Next let us return to the reasonable accommodations of the ADA.  Within the ADA, a business can be off the hook sort of say, if the business can prove the reasonable accommodations will cause them an undue hardship.  A business can bypass the law, if they can prove the reasonable accommodations will cause them financial hardship.  Title I of the ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee or applicants, except when the reasonable accommodation will cause undue hardship.  If a person with a disability is working in an environment and he or she needs accommodations such as a higher desk, adapted technology, or anything that will provide the person with a disability to perform his or her job and related to the job function.  A person with a disability should provide the supervisor or the business with a written request that a reasonable accommodation is needed and why it is essential for him or her to for job performance.  The reason for a written request is to create a paper trail and keep copies of all documents related to the request.  Just in case you are denied a request, you can provide documents and backup your request for accommodations.  There have been many lawsuits over the request and denial of accommodations in the workplace for some reason or another.  A few examples of accommodation in the workplace are:  A cashier with a disability can sit down and do the same job function as standing up.  A person with a disability, such as a hearing impairment, can have a TTY to use as a telephone, because the telephone is required for him or her to perform the job requirements, such as a customer service, call center, or a receptionist.  The employer does not have to provide a wheelchair or a prosthetic leg.  Another example might be a person with a medical condition might need a little extra time to get to work.  The employer might state that he or she needs three weeks or more to get this approved and on the schedule, this is reasonable accommodation.  A person does not need to say to the employer, “I need extra time, because under the ADA, you must make reasonable accommodations for me.”  A person can just ask the employer and explain why he or she needs it, because of a medical condition.  Trust me, employers know about the ADA.  Only reason should you cite the ADA occurs when the employer refuses you.  The request does not have to be in writing, but like I said earlier, I recommend it.  Undue hardship can be an accommodation that is less expensive that you initially requested.  Undue hardship can be more expensive than the business.  For example, a business does not have to build an elevator, because it would cost more to the business than what the business is worth.  Reasonable accommodation would be asking someone to go the top floors for you and your office would be on the first floor. For example, you work in a to story office building and your office is on the first floor, but there might be some files that are kept on the second floor.  Reasonable accommodation will be requesting someone to get the files for you.  This request is reasonable and protected under the law.  Most employers will ask the applicant during the interview process or the day of hiring, if there might be any accommodations you need to perform your job.  Do not worry if you cannot think of anything right then and there, because you are not obligated to give an answer of some foreseen barriers or obstacles.  Most accommodations happen well into the employment history and not solved in the hiring process.  Another important concept is the accommodations can change as the person with a disability changes or a person become disabled after working with a company.  The only thing about undue hardship is many agencies and business take advantage of this clause and the federal enforcement of the ADA does not investigate.  The ADA takes you to implement and enforce it.   

     What does the ADA mean to you?  There are many things taken into consideration with the ADA.  Factors can be how does the ADA relate to your situation, it can be employment, accommodations, discrimination, parking, or violation of your civil rights as protected under the United States Constitution.  I hope I gave you some insight to the ADA and how the laws can affect you.  I tried to give a sample of the most common areas of interest and controversy surrounding the ADA.  I invite you to e-mail me with any questions or future columns that might be of interest to you with the ADA.  If you are someone you know needs assistance with accommodations in the workplace, discrimination, or any other area, I would suggest you call an advocate for the disabled or a disability counselor or lawyer.  The ADA has many advantages, but can is a disadvantage, if a person does not know the law or does not know the civil rights and does not stand up and be a voice.  The ADA can only do what a person knows and protect his or her rights by exercising the freedom of speech, and liberties, that has been established since our forefathers founded our country.  Exercise your right and use the ADA to protect your civil liberties.        

     Department of Justice (2007.  American’s with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved on October 13, 2007 from http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada.   


DAD on WHEELS
Leslie Johnson

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