The Rejuvenation Of The ADA
Posted on May 16, 2012 by Kim Lackey
On April 19th, Saint Louis University School of Law hosted Chai Feldblum. Chai Feldblum was nominated to serve as a Commissioner of the EEOC by President Barack Obama. Prior to her appointment to the EEOC, Commissioner Feldblum was a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. As Legislative Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union from 1988 to 1991, Commissioner Feldblum played a leading role in helping to draft and negotiate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Later, as a law professor representing the Epilepsy Foundation, she was equally instrumental in the drafting and negotiating of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
In her talk titled “The Rejuvenation Of The ADA: Towards True Equality For People With Disabilities” She began by quoting FDR saying; “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence”. Commissioner Feldblum stressed that full employment of people with disabilities was key to attaining true individual freedom.
When talking about reasonable accommodations in the workplace Commissioner Feldblum made the point that equality does not always mean treating people the same, equality often means being fair and making sure people have equal opportunity. This is an important point for many HR personnel and managers to understand. Often times, folks feel that policies and procedures must be applied in the exact same way for every individual. However, this is not true when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities. Policies, practices, and procedures must be reasonably modified to accommodate an employee with a disability. Some people may view this as special treatment or an advantage, but really, as Chai Feldblum put it, it just makes someone who started on a tilt become upright.
To illustrate this point Commissioner Feldblum discussed a situation in which a sign language interpreter was provided for someone whom was deaf. Now before an interpreter was provided the deaf individual was on a tilt, but once there was an interpreter that individual became upright. So, even though this individual was treated differently and provided something extra, it was necessary in order to achieve equality. Now if everyone was raised to communicate verbally and through sign language then individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing would not be at a tilt and reasonable accommodations would not be necessary to achieve equality.
Unfortunately, we all know this is not the world we live in. Not everyone uses sign language, not all written communication is in Braille, and buildings do not utilize ramps in place of stairs. So, unitl the world that we live in allows everyone to be upright from the outset, true equality for people with disabilities cannot always exist without reasonable accommodations.