Employee Toolbox - This section will provide you with with everything you need to prepare for a successful job search.

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  • Contact the ADA Technical Assistance Center in your Area 800-949-4232
  • Your rights under the ADA http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html
  • If your disability was caused through an injury that was someone else's fault - then you could have grounds for a compensation claim.

Achieving Integration Through Cooperation in the Workplace

By Gary Marcus

As many employees know, some all too well, the Americans with Disabilities Act tells us that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of their disability. Specifically, the act tells us that any otherwise-qualified individual cannot be discriminated against in hiring or any other work-related issue solely on the basis of their handicapping condition.

Though there is a fairly large list of conditions that are covered under the Act, most employers seem to feel uncomfortable with visible disabilities that fall under the category of orthopedic and sensory disabilities.

People with orthopedic and sensory disabilities are probably familiar to most of us. They include, but are not limited to, people who use assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and braces to assist them in their mobility. People with sensory disabilities, of course include persons with various degrees of visual and hearing impairments. The Act further states that a handicapping condition is any condition that affects a major life activity. Walking, seeing and hearing are certainly major life activities and major life functions.

The law in this case is designed, so to speak, to equalize the playing field . Remember, I say equalize the playing field, not provide the prospective employee with a disability an unfair advantage over the other people in the office.

To equalize the playing field, the law provides for reasonable accommodations. This scares most employers because they think it is prohibitively expensive to accommodate the disabled employee. It is often not prohibitive at all. Sometimes, it may mean taking the molding off a bathroom door so the person who uses a wheelchair for mobility can more easily get into the bathroom. Other times it may mean putting braille identification labels on your new employees' doorway as well as other important offices so the person who cannot "see" in the conventional sense can have equal access to the workplace and, most importantly, do their job well. It may also mean putting a TTY in your office so the person with a hearing impairment can function effectively. Most of these items cost under one hundred dollars. Hiring a person with a disability does not often mean a prohibitive cost to your company as may be sometimes feared.

It sometimes seems the real issue is psychological. Let's face it, most of us have not grown up around people with disabilities. Therefore, we are afraid we would do or say the wrong thing. More importantly, we don't want to appear to ourselves as not being the nicest person in the world. We have to live with ourselves and we don't want to admit that we may feel uncomfortable about a person with a disability. We may say to ourselves that they are helpless. How can they do a job for us?

However, that is just the point I wish to make. People with disabilities are not helpless! Of course there are things that they can't do, or do differently than we are used to seeing, but I suspect that is true for most of us. I hope you're not hiring for what they can't do. I hope you'll be hiring them for what they can do. I'm sure that a professionally competent person with a disability sees themselves in a very positive light and can tell you many things about himself/herself that they can do well. I would hope so- that is why you’re hiring them.

What do you do to help the other people in the office to feel more comfortable with this person with a disability that you have just hired? Take the lead from the person themselves. They may want to talk about their disability during the first day, they may not. It is up to them. Give them permission to do as they wish. Make suggestions you may have. Any good employee/employer relationship is collaborative and a compromise. Work it out together.

More importantly, research shows that when you are involved in group tasks or are having group meetings at work, emphasize professional strengths. This way, his colleagues can learn about him as a person, not only a person with a disability.

Remember, work it out! Hopefully, you would do this for all your employees. I know you will because you are very effective supervisor. Lastly, and probably the most difficult for all of us to realize is that we are all different. We all have different things to offer. Celebrate those differences and I guarantee you it will affect your bottom line positively. It will for everyone. However, it will do so particularly when you hire a competent person with a disability - as when you hire any competent person. First and foremost, they are a person with many skills rather than many limitations. Have Fun. You May Take This To The Bank!

Gary has a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Long Island University, C.W. Post College. He has worked in the private sector practicing counseling in New York. His personal journey is always to endeavor to see the positive side of life. He has personal and professional experience within the field of disabilities.