[nfbmi-talk] Employment of the Blind and Equality under the ADA
Terry D. Eagle
terrydeagle at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 11 14:03:07 UTC 2015
Below is an opinion that goes directly to the convention defeated resolution
concept of access and equality under the Americans with Disabilities Act
25 Years After the ADA: Blind Still Missing from the Workforce
Posted on 7/21/2015
by Carl Augusto
Struggles to achieve equality are never completely won.
Allegations of bias and the tragic stain of racist violence dominate
headlines decades after the Civil Rights Act was signed. American women
strive-still-for equal pay in the workplace. And even as LGBT Americans
celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's affirmation of same-sex marriage, the
response in some sectors of the country signals that their fight for
acceptance is far from over.
The lesson, always, is that no law or court decision promising equality can
deliver as intended without a sustained, collective effort to follow through
on its protections.
At a moment when "equality" is very much on the minds of Americans, it's
fitting that we've arrived at the 25th anniversary of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA).
By any measure, the ADA stands as a watershed for the advancement of
disabled persons into the mainstream of American life. Signed into law by
President George H. W. Bush, the law expanded civil rights protections to a
broad spectrum of Americans, from individuals with vision loss to injured
veterans to those living with HIV.
In addition to barring discrimination in employment, the ADA for the first
time required that private employers provide "reasonable accommodations" for
workers with disabilities. In addition, the law established accessibility
requirements for public transportation, businesses that cater to the public,
and even websites. As a result, we have more braille and large-print signage
and better-designed retail websites, which have given us access to the
One of the key goals of the law was to open doors to viable employment for
people with disabilities. In doing so, it would encourage greater
recognition of the disabled community as a talent resource. And that
evolution in perception is critical, because true equality comes when
individuals who have lost sight or hearing or mobility are nonetheless
viewed as equally capable - by employers, by the larger community, by
disabled people themselves.
Twenty-five years later, those of us who advocated for ADA are proud of the
progress that's been made. It's headline news when a person with vision loss
becomes a CEO or rises to public office. Those are high-profile victories
and they are all too rare. But perhaps even more significant are the
everyday jobs being done by data processors, administrative assistants,
medical technicians, service industry workers, sales professionals, and
teachers. Each day, the list of jobs that are considered beyond the
capabilities of visually impaired people grows exponentially shorter.
Has the ADA made a difference? Absolutely. Today there more and more
employers who are setting aside bias and negative assumptions and saying
"yes" to a qualified applicants. Unfortunately, these successes make the
pace of progress all the more frustrating.
Sadly, the workforce participation rate among people who are blind or
visually impaired is only 36 percent, just half that of the general
In real terms, it means that the vast majority of working-age people who are
visually impaired are still missing from the workforce. Without work, they
cannot be independent. Without independence, social equality remains an
abstraction - a goal forever out of reach - and our employers are deprived
of our talents, skills, and valuable insights.
We can do better.
For starters, employers and human resources directors need more and better
information about how employees with vision loss do their jobs. Recent
surveys show that employers are critically underinformed about
accommodations that can help their disabled employees to adapt and succeed.
Many fear the financial cost and perceived inconvenience of accommodating
visually impaired workers.
Modest workplace modifications, from improved lighting to computer software
that "speaks" the content displayed on the screen, are often all that is
needed to ensure productive employment for a person with vision loss. In
most cases, the cost to employers is not prohibitive and adaptations can be
implemented with few transition pains.
Yet with each step forward, the clearer one sees the great distance our
nation needs to travel in order to achieve full compliance with the law and
adequately accommodate the blind and visually impaired community.
It isn't a question of whether we can do this. The technologies are here and
advancing by the day. People with vision loss are eager for greater
independence and the opportunity to contribute to their communities and the
economic health of their country.
We can do it, but only if we have the will. On this 25th
anniversary of ADA, our government, the private sector, vision loss
professionals - all of us - must recommit to implementing its protections.
We must if the U.S. is to meet its sworn obligations to people with visual
impairments and to all Americans with disabilities. We too are entitled to
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