HBO recently adapted the first book in the four-part series for the small screen.
More than 50 million Americans have a disability. As a group, they’re the nation’s largest minority. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990, it extended civil rights protections to disabled people for the first time. It guaranteed equal opportunity in employment, transportation, government services and public accommodations like hotels and restrooms. Some say the costs of the ADA are too great. Others argue they’re small when compared to the contributions of disabled people who have access to education, transportation and other things many take for granted. Diane and her guests assess the ADA at age 25.
- Lennard J. Davis Professor of Liberal Arts in the departments of Disability Studies and English at the University of Illinois; author of a new book, "Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest U.S. Minority Its Rights."
- Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi President and founder of RespectAbility.
- Walter Olson Senior fellow, the Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies.
- Randel Johnson Senior vice president, Labor, Immigration and Employee Benefits, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Twenty-five years ago, the first President Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act making it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability. The ADA has helped millions of Americans since its passage, but it's not lived up to its promise in many ways, especially with regard to employment opportunities.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the ADA on its 25th anniversary, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of RespectAbility, which advocates for the disabled, and Walter Olson of the Cato Institute. Joining us from a studio at WSKG in New York, Lennard J. Davis. He's author of a new book entitled, "Enabling Acts." I welcome your calls, questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being with us.
MR. WALTER OLSONThank you.
MS. JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHIThank you for having us.
MR. LENNARD J. DAVISThanks for having me back.
REHMAnd Lennard Davis, I'll start with you. Give us a sense of what life was like for disabled Americans before 1990 when the Americans With Disabilities Act came into being.
DAVISSure. And maybe we want to go back even a little bit farther before there was any legislation at all, major legislation. I mean, I think for an ordinary person with a disability life was very limited. First of all, let's say you had a mobility impairment and you wanted to do the things that anybody else does. You wanted to go to work. You wanted to go to the movies. You wanted to go to a restaurant. All of those things were virtually impossible.
DAVISThat left you with -- many people with the only alternative of staying at home. If there were no curb cuts, maybe you could go around the block, but you couldn't get to the next block. If you were deaf, for example, and you couldn't watch TV or you could watch it, but you couldn't -- there was no captioning. You couldn't make phone calls. If you were blind, you had a serious problem possibly crossing the street.
DAVISThere were no traffic indicators. You can just go down the line. For the ordinary person with a disability, life was not the equivalent in any way, shape or form for someone who was, if you want to use the word, normal.
REHMAnd you actually experienced this with your own parents.
DAVISThat's right. My parents were deaf. They were profoundly deaf and, you know, they had a very limited life. They had a very full life within the deaf community, but the very simplest things, like if someone wanted to come and visit us, they would have to send a postcard to my parents who would have to send a postcard back saying when they would be there and then that person -- we lived in an apartment building.
DAVISThat person would ring the bell downstairs and there was a pretty good chance that the very gerry-rigged system that we had to put lights on wouldn't work so that person might have spent a week planning to come over and not be able to get in. My parents couldn't go to religious services because there was no interpretation. They couldn't go to doctors -- or they could go, but they might not be understood.
DAVISThey couldn't go to the courthouses. They didn't have their civil rights and I think that's the important point.
REHMSo I gather when the ADA was passed, there was a great deal of rejoicing and hope for the future.
DAVISThat's correct. What the ADA did was it standardized across the United States all of the disability laws and regulations. And what it basically did, and this is the important point, was to say disability rights are civil rights. You're a citizen in a country and you have the right to have all of the opportunities that anybody else has. So the law did that in a number of different ways and I think many people don't realize that this was the most encompassing and the widest ranging civil rights act of the 20th century and probably of all time.
DAVISIt covered so many different areas of life.
REHMLennard Davis, he's author of "Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How The Americans With Disabilities Act Gave the Largest U.S. Minority Its Rights." And turning to you, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, what about that hope, that expectation? Has it been fulfilled?
MIZRAHISo the ADA is a tremendous piece of civil rights legislation that is supposed to guarantee the American dream as an opportunity equally for people with all abilities. But it's one of those things where it just didn't do enough. Think of it like a steam engine. A steam engine of a train only moves when the water boils. The water doesn't boil until it's 212 degrees. So if you move the water to 100 degrees, you've moved it in the right direction, but the train's not going anywhere.
MIZRAHIADA has done tremendous things for architecture, but not enough for attitudes and for outcomes.
MIZRAHI70 percent of Americans with disabilities are not in the workforce so when African Americans, Hispanics and women have increased their ability to achieve in the workforce, people with disabilities have actually gone backwards since the ADA in terms of labor force participation.
REHMWhy is that?
MIZRAHIA lot of it has to do with the stigma, the false perception that people with disabilities just can't do that job, despite people like Stephen Hawking, who is so imminently qualified and talented or the governor of Texas, both wheelchair users or people with dyslexia like the head of Virgin Atlantic or, you know, other major companies. There are so many case studies of people with disabilities who are more qualified and talented than those without, but that is not the stigma that people have out there.
REHMAnd Walter Olson, what have you found to be some of the reasons that disabled people are less employed than they should be?
OLSONIt's amazing what a paradox this is because when the ADA passed, everyone predicted, both the majority of supporters and the few skeptics, everyone predicted that labor force participation would go up. Certainly, in those 25 years, so far as most people can tell, stigma has declined, I would argue. People do understand. They knew even back them, because don't you remember FDR and others were widely known for their accomplishments and yet, I think, we understand better now than a generation ago just how much ability there is in disability and yet the labor force numbers when in the wrong direction.
OLSONAnd to puzzle that out, I think part of the answer, a large part of it is the structure of benefits programs, which, in some ways, penalize people for jumping into employment. There are other things probably at work as well.
REHMBut help me to understand that benefits program and how that disadvantages those who are disabled.
OLSONIt's a variety of programs, but what I hear from the disabled community is that health insurance is especially important and that if you are, for whatever reason, on a set of government benefits provided to disabled people, including a widespread coverage for health problems and you jump into the workplace in a job which however good a job you may do might disappear because the company moves or goes broke or whatever. You know, jobs end and at that point, and correct me if I'm wrong, Jennifer and Lennard, but at that point, you may be back in an uncovered situation with much more trouble getting back to the original entitlement that you had.
REHMYou mean, you cannot regain your benefits once you have let them go?
OLSONWell, remember that by taking full time employment you have kind of certified that you are not unemployable, which is one of the elements of qualification for many things.
OLSONAnd others here, I think, probably know more about the exact set of barriers and yet, this is what I've heard more often than any other is that it's a benefits trap as it were, where the risk is that you will wind up worse off because you'd went after exactly what society wants you to go after, which is the best job you can get.
MIZRAHIHe's absolutely right. There is a disincentive for employment that if somebody with a disability admits that they're capable of working or if they acquire more than $2,000 in assets, you can lose all of your healthcare coverage or your personal care assistant. Now, imagine that you're Stephen Hawking and you're incredibly brilliant. We should all be so lucky, right?
MIZRAHIYou still need somebody to bathe you, to dress you, to help you do all the bodily things because you can't move on your own. If you acquire more than $2,000 in assets, the government takes away the person who can enable you to dress and go to work. So for somebody who's quadriplegic who has a neuro muscular difference, that can be really a deal breaker. But this really, for the taxpayer, is a question that they have to think about because the more common situation is perhaps autism or Down Syndrome, for example.
MIZRAHIThe biggest thing that I think is the opportunity today is if you have a young person on the autism spectrum or with Down Syndrome or any other developmental disability coming out of school to invest a small amount of money in helping them get job training and job coaching and sort of a real program to get into a job, that person can have an entire life of friends, of opportunity, of achievement by getting into a job.
MIZRAHIIf you don't do that, if you have low expectations, you wind up a situation where young people will spend their entire lives sitting on their parents' couch collecting benefits, getting depressed, smoking, gaining weight, getting mental health differences.
REHMJennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, she's president and founder of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities. We are taking your calls, your comments. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. The act establishing the Americans with Disabilities Act established 25 years ago is being looked at very carefully in terms of both its advantages and perhaps some corrections that need to be made to the Act. Here with me: Walter Olson of the Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of RespectAbility, and Leonard Davis, he's professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Disability of Studies and English at the University of Illinois. He's author of a new book titled, "Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest U.S. Minority its Rights." Jennifer, what do you think needs to be done to increase the employment of the disabled?
MIZRAHIThe first thing is to end the pity frame with which we look at the conversation. We have elected officials and employers who look at people with disabilities and say, "Hey, we need to really feel sorry for you," as opposed to recognizing the talents that these individuals have. Sometimes they need some extra accommodations to get their performance metrics exactly aligned with the needs of the employer but if you do that, you can find really that they're extraordinary.
MIZRAHII'll give you an example, if you don't mind. Walgreens has a lot of need for people in their warehouses to do a lot of work. They've found that the turnover for those jobs is very high. A lot of people get really bored with repetitive jobs and so they take the job and three months later they quit. They've found that people with disabilities, even if they were not at all literate, if you just broke it down into simple steps, if you put it in pictures and laminated the pictures in front, and if you made the workflow really rational and make sense, that they would do an even better job.
MIZRAHISo Walgreens found that the for-profit company could make more money for stockholders if they hired more people with disabilities because their safety record got better, their performance record got better and their turnover was lower. So good for business, good for the bottom line, great for the people with disabilities that got a chance to work.
REHMLet me take one disability, if I may, and forgive me for singling out Down syndrome.
REHMGive me an example of the kinds of work that have been successful for those with Down syndrome.
MIZRAHIWell, the first thing is not to stereotype that somebody can only do one kind of job. I mean, people have this stereotype, it's food and filth. You can only do cleaning up rooms or in food prep. And that's true that people with Down syndrome can be fabulous in restaurants and can be fabulous in a lot of those kinds of jobs. But at the grocery store, a lot of people who are bagging your groceries might be people with Down syndrome. In hospitals, I've seen people with Down syndrome do very terrific work in terms of organizing surgical instruments because if you put pictures in front of exactly what it should look like, they sterilize the equipment perfectly, they line it up perfectly, everything is seamless and they don't quit their jobs. They love their jobs.
MIZRAHISo hospitality industry, hotels, many, many different kinds of professions.
REHMWalter Olson, would you agree?
OLSONWell, I think Jennifer is exactly right that individual disabilities often map extremely well. And we've seen this with autism and the autism spectrum, where people turn out not just to be average achievers but overachievers in all series of calculating and concentration tasks. And the structure of our discrimination law in some ways works cross-purposes with this because the assumption, which may have been brought over from areas like race and sex, is the people will wind up being evenly distributed if you've got a fair and nondiscriminatory workplace. That isn't necessarily how it will turn out if you are correctly assessing the abilities of the disabled.
DAVISYes. I was waiting to jump in here. You know, we don't have to imagine what it would be like to have an employment rate of 7 percent, for example, among people with disabilities. It already exists. There are countries in Europe that have that. So we want to ask, well, what's the difference? And the difference is that the ADA, when it was -- when it became a law, was a compromise between liberals and conservatives. And obviously the conservatives wanted to create a situation where there would never be an agency that was involved and there would never be quotas.
DAVISBut the European countries, like France and the northern Europe, have a quota system. They say that every employer that has, say, more than 50 employees, has to have 10 or 12 percent of those people be people with disabilities. And they have employment rates of 7 or 8 percent, compared to our 70 percent. I mean, we can't rely on people just, you know, having a higher sense of obligation or morality. I think it's really necessary to have better laws in place about employment.
REHMWould you agree?
MIZRAHIWell, yes, Diane. And speaking of better laws, there's a fabulous new law that was just signed by President Obama that was completely bipartisan. Both sides of the aisles came together for the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, or the Opportunity Act. Literally all 50 governors today, under law, must completely change their system for how to create jobs for people with disabilities and other barriers. So if you're not seeing results in your state, you should be contacting your governor right away. Because under this new law, they're supposed to come up with a new plan to solve these issues.
REHMAll right. And joining us now from Washington, D.C., Randel Johnson. He's senior vice president for Labor, Immigration and Employee Benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Thanks for joining us, sir. Tell us about the main concerns that you believe American employers have about the ADA?
MR. RANDEL JOHNSONWell, thanks, Diane. And I always hesitate to drop into the middle of a show and I apologize for not having been on, on the first half hour. I'm sure it was -- it's been great. And thanks for having me on, since I -- when I worked on Capitol Hill, I was one of the key staffers in writing the ADA and I certainly consider it as one of my proudest accomplishments. And, Diane, just let me just take a second and mention to your audience that, on July 31, we're having an event here at the Chamber celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ADA and Steny Hoyer is going to kick it off. And it should be a good event.
JOHNSONAnd so we'll have some information on our website on that any time now. Look, with regard to, you know, employers, you know, employers are -- and one thing we'll be covering in this event is what employers are doing on a broad basis to incorporate the disabled into the workforce and keep them employed. Because it's not just a question of recruiting, it's also keeping them employed, of course.
JOHNSONSome of the problems that come up, I think, after the ADAA (sic) Amendments, when the definition of disability was broadened -- which we did support, by the way, the Chamber worked on that bill -- I think some of the case laws shaking down on kind of what is a reasonable accommodation and, as I'm sure your prior speakers already talked about, an employer must reasonably accommodate a disability so long as they can still do the essential functions of the job.
JOHNSONBut you're seeing a lot of the cases turn not on what is a -- not physical alterations to the workplace, such as a screen reader or a changed desk, but rather sort of when do you have to be required to, say, go from full time to part time? When do you have to provide different kinds of shifts on the workplace? Do you have to provide -- how much leave do you have to provide, say, you know, unlimited leave or 12 weeks? When do you have to kind of change the job in and of itself to, a part of reasonable accommodation?
JOHNSONAnd when employers -- seeing the fundamental aspects of the job being changed, they're pushing back on that. And that's being reflected in the case law. And we can talk about that a little bit. A couple of other issues that have come up, sort of in, moving from employment, but in the public accessibility, accommodations area. One area I want to mention to you and your listeners is the Department of Justice is engaging in some new rule making governing when a website must be accessible to customers and under what conditions and what must a business do.
JOHNSONSo that's a huge issue coming down the pike and it's been litigated in several circuits but it's one out there that's still developing and depending on how the Department of Justice regulations come out, well that's certainly an area we're following. And lastly, and I know you're probably -- the other people on the phone or at your studio are familiar with this, this sort of area of we call them drive-by lawsuits. A lot's been written about this already. And it can be debated either way. But basically, under Title III, businesses -- and rightfully so -- must make changes in their physical premises to make their sites accessible.
JOHNSONBut we've had a problem with, frankly, many so-called customers and law firms specializing in filing lawsuits against businesses -- particularly small businesses -- over the slightest kinds of problems, like a bathroom stall being an inch off or a water fountain not be at the right level because it's two inches off -- and these are true cases -- or a mirror being two inches too high. And they're being settled for sometimes $10,000 to $20,000, which isn't a huge, a lot of money for big businesses but for small guys it is. And of course, when an employer is not in compliance, they need to make changes. But maybe sometimes they should be given a warning and haven't had an opportunity to make that change before being sued.
REHMAll right. And...
JOHNSONThat's in California, Florida -- because state laws also interplay here, not just the federal ADA. And that's a tough issue. It's been hanging around for a while. Hearings have been on the Hill. A lot's been written on it. That's one that we continually hear about from our members.
REHMTell me about why California and Florida have so many of these so-called drive-by lawsuits.
JOHNSONYeah. You know, on Florida, I'm not quite sure. I think, in California, they actually have another statute that provides for a civil penalty that's not in the ADA that for a certain amount of violation -- I think it's up to $40,000, it might be less than that -- but there's a separate statute in California that I would say incentivizes these kinds of lawsuits because it allows for damages which aren't reflected in the federal ADA. Therefore, there's more money to be collected, therefore there's more incentive to file these lawsuits.
REHMAll right. And you mentioned something called web accessibility requirements. You say it's becoming a big issue. Explain that to us.
JOHNSONYeah. And there's actually, it's surprising, there's actually four or five leading circuit court decisions on this. But for example, if you're a retailer -- and it's no secret, I think there was a major case involving Target, in which, of course, obviously most retailers nowadays -- most businesses now have websites. And if someone who is, for example, sight impaired or can't hear -- can't use that website, what happens? What does the business have to do to make sure that they can -- make sure that they can use that website?
JOHNSONAnd some of the case law has said that well, if you don't have a physical plant or location, then Title III doesn't apply -- Title III public accommodation requirements. But the weight of the case law seems to be going in the direction of, if you have a website providing a service, then it's subject to the ADA accessibility requirements. And the Department of Justice is -- has pending regulations. They came out with one back on July 26, 2010, saying they're going to go down this road and come up with new regulations.
JOHNSONBut, for example, the Chamber website, if someone can't see, there's -- they have screen -- a person who has a screen reader will key into the Chamber website and it'll -- I'm not sure what the technical issue is -- but the website -- the screen reader will in fact vocally tell the heart of -- a sight-impaired person what's on the screen. For example, like, it's a video of a dog licking an ice cream cone, it'll say...
JOHNSON...picture of dog licking ice cream cone.
JOHNSONBut you can imagine the technical challenges that can occur here and the questions that come up. It's just a huge issue coming down the pike.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jennifer, do you want to respond on that issue?
MIZRAHIAbsolutely. First of all, this website situation is very important, because the world really works on the Internet. And if somebody can't access it because they're -- the website's not screen reader accessible or there's no captions on the video, they're really shut out of society.
REHMSo does that mean an employer is obligated to provide that kind of screen reading device?
MIZRAHIWell, it doesn't need any special advice -- device. Actually, every over-the-counter piece of equipment that you buy -- whether it's your iPhone or your tabled or whatever -- has all the equipment. It's just about setting it up. We have a free webinar on our website -- it takes an hour -- literally, for free, in an hour you can learn how to make your website screen reader accessible. This is important for candidates too. It's been interesting to watch all the presidential candidates forget that voters with disabilities care about these issues, and to issue campaign videos without captions, to create websites that are not screen-reader accessible.
OLSONWe've just got to one of the ironies here, which is that the politicians -- even most of the organizations dealing with disability -- have websites that are not, themselves, compliant with this. And I must disagree with Jennifer on the question of how easy this is. I publish a small website. I'm terrified by these rules. These rules suggest that if I take a video of a news event with my iPhone and I put it up, I have to wait until I or someone else has -- have captioned it. Now, my website, like many, is partially in the news business. Waiting a couple of days or paying someone to caption -- you know, this is something that large media organizations can do. You will wipe out so many of the small...
MIZRAHIActually, that's -- that, if I can -- it's really simple now. Because what you do now is you just take your video and you put it on YouTube. YouTube has invented an algorithm that, if you put your web -- your video on YouTube, it will auto-populate captions. They're not perfect but they're certainly better than nothing. And then all you have to do is very simply connect to that YouTube video on your website. It's instant and it's free, which is my favorite price.
OLSONWhat an extraordinary assertion of control over editorial discretion. You know, we're talking about small magazines. We're talking about small community organizations. And you're saying they must go through YouTube whether they like YouTube or not. Now, we've touched on here how technology is quickly solving many of the problems that seemed so insoluble five or ten years ago, because the software is getting better and better. But the idea of the government forcing us to express ourselves in a particular, approved way on the web -- which is now where everyone expresses themselves...
REHMLennard, do you want to weigh in here?
DAVISYeah, sure. I -- you know, in my book, "Enabling Acts," I talk a lot about all of these situations that perhaps are being discussed that in the past, that seemed impossible. Like the discussion about wheelchair lifts on buses. The bus companies were going crazy saying, like, "We can't do this. It'll break us." and the trains, all of these issues. Curb cuts, can you imagine, every curb in the United States, every corner has a curb cut now. It's not a big deal. This issue about web accessibility -- you can make your own website accessible if you take a little bit of time. It's not a big deal. You can add captions. It's not a big deal.
REHMLennard Davis, he's the author of "Enabling Acts." Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I hope that, Randel Johnson, you can stay with us. And short break, right back.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to Dansville, Michigan. Cindy, you're on the air.
CINDYGood morning. The question that I have is for, if you are an employer, if you are looking at hiring a person with disabilities, do they feel that they are a liability or an asset? And the reason why I ask this is the person with disabilities request a reasonable accommodation to mitigate that person's disability within the workplace. I'll give you an example.
CINDYIf they are requesting a very highly trained mobility service dog, and the employer says, well why can't you just use a wheelchair, a walker or a cane, that employer can see that you are a liability of falling.
REHMWhat about that, Randel Johnson?
JOHNSONWell, you've asked a very practical question. I think that, and it's hard to make generalizations about how employers might face a situation like that. I think, generally speaking, employers look at the disabled, if they can do the essential functions of the job, as an asset to bring into the workplace. Particularly in times, of frankly, we're having a shortage of workers to do a lot -- to do many kinds of employment. You know, but I will say that when you look at the case law, I think that there is a sense that employers want to have someone who's gonna look at these issues and work with them in a reasonable manner.
JOHNSONAnd, you know, the case log does make clear that an employer doesn't have to adapt the most preferred method of reasonable accommodation that the employee wants, but a reasonable one. But I have to tell you, there have been some cases, for example, a major company offered sing language interpreters to a certain employee, but he wanted closed captioning on videos. Even though, instant closed caption, because he found the sign -- watching the video at the same time as having the sign language interpreter distracting.
JOHNSONAnd that's a case that had to go up to the court of appeals and the court said, no. You know, the employer offering sign language interpretation is enough. It doesn't have to be the perfect accommodations of you, of the employee. So, I think what -- I guess that's a long way of saying, an employer is looking for someone to approach them in a reasonable manner, not in a confrontational manner and to work these problems out. And if someone is very confrontational in an interview, will that go into the employer's mind in terms of being a negative? Well, you know, it might.
OLSONBusiness hates legal on certain day. And service animal area is one where it's actually been headed in the right direction. Because there was some journalistic coverage of the abuse of service animal rights by people who had service reptiles and service birds and all sorts of things. And the Obama administration, I think to its credit, got some regulations together providing a lot of clarity as to what was and what was not. In particular, it has to be trained. It can't just be your pet.
MIZRAHIThere are tremendous resources available to employers on how to handle all kinds of situations and they're available for free. Askjan.org is one. The US Business Leadership Network has state chapters that are terrific. Vocrehab helps them. They can always contact us at respectabilityusa.org for free support on how to handle any situation. They're not in this alone.
REHMAll right. To Oklahoma City. Hi there, Gordon. You're on the air.
GORDONHi Diane. Hi everybody. Listen, I have a twofold address here. One is about sheltered workshops, which I'm sure everyone has an opinion about. Myself, I would like to see more of a use of sheltered workshops in the private and the government industry. I went to school and I was advised against being a work study, because it involved quote, work. I'm a disabled veteran. I get the 100 percent rate, even though I'm only 70 percent disabled. One of the hardest things to do is nothing. I think I should be afforded some type of work without it having to affect my benefits.
GORDONSecondly, and maybe more importantly, I would like to address what I call continuity in government. My 100 percent rate was given to me by the Veteran Administration. But the same disability did not qualify me for social security. And when I went to the Department of Education to have my loans dismissed for being 100 percent disabled, that's where I found out that each government agency has a different take on what they call, or what their agency describes as a disability.
MIZRAHISo, first of all, I totally agree with this caller, who says the benefit system needs to be reformed and modernized and fixed. I completely agree with the caller on that. Where I don't agree with the caller is where he's asking for more sheltered workshops. So, let me explain, for the listeners, what a sheltered workshop is. A sheltered workshop is a special legal entity that enables a group of people with disabilities to be put into, you know, a work area. They're completely segregated.
MIZRAHIAnd in many cases, they're earning sub-minimum wage. So, you have 400,000 Americans with disabilities earning as little as 20 cents an hour. One of them is Goodwill Industries. Goodwill Industries pays its senior executives north of 405,000 dollars a year, and yet they have 8,000 people with disabilities working at sub-minimum wage, as little as 20 cents an hour. I'm against this.
REHMAnd you talked earlier about Walgreens hiring disabled individuals. What are they paying?
MIZRAHIAbove minimum wage.
REHMAll right. Walter.
OLSONSheltered workshops have gone completely out of fashion. Washington is moving to eliminate them, to create a clause from the advocacy community. I would just pause to warn everybody that not all disabled people want the same thing or benefit from the same thing. And a diversity of institutions serves people better.
REHMAnd here's an email from Katherine in Ohio, who says, please stop generalizing, quote, people with disabilities. Not everyone with a disability can work. Many are barely able to get through the day. They definitely do not need to feel additional societal pressure to work and should not feel shame because they cannot work. Please remember all people are valuable, whether they can work or not. We are human beings first, and foremost, not human doings. Lennard Davis, do you want to comment?
DAVISSure. I mean, I think that, you know, one of the things about the concept of disability is it covers so many different kinds of people. And so the main point is, yes, of course, if you can't work, people, you should have the respect of people because you are a human being, and you have civil rights. But we have to pay attention to all the people who want to work and can't. I just want to throw in one other thing, too. We've just seen the marriage equality decision. And so, people who are gay now can get married, but people with disabilities often cannot get married.
DAVISAnd they can't get married because if they marry someone who has an income, they will lose their benefits. So, that's another area that really needs to be corrected, because we now have gay people marrying, but people with disabilities are still back in the dark ages.
REHMSo, where is the Congress on amendments to the ADA, Jennifer?
MIZRAHII don't think anyone's looking to amend the ADA because fundamentally, that is a civil rights law that is working. Where we need to make the changes is in the benefits system. Right now, there's a lot of conversation about that, because the SSDI is about to run out of money. It will not have enough money unless something is done to change things. So the question is, how do you modernize it? How do you reform it so that there is always a safety net for people who need it? But that people who want to have the opportunity to achieve the American dream can go out and do that.
REHMAll right. One other aspect I wanted to talk to you about, Walter, is the parking spaces that are segregated and specially marked for quote handicapped people. First of all, should that word be changed and second of all, are there more spaces than are needed?
OLSONI don't want to weigh in to the semantic debate. I can say that almost everyone has seen the large shopping centers where none of the handicapped spaces get completely filled up, ever, during the entire life of the mall or the shopping center. And part of that is a simple arithmetic error they made in statistically predicting how many people needing those spaces would show up at once. The other thing with handicapped parking, and you see this terribly in some states and cities, and not at all in others, is that it gets abused by people who get a placard from the state.
OLSONBased on a relative who hasn't even been alive for several years or some other form of misrepresentation. And that makes people feel cheated when they see someone who is exploiting the benefits that should be reserved.
DAVISYeah. You know, I think, I want to caution against a certain line of logic. Where you criticize a program because of the less than one quarter of one percent of cases where that might be a problem. And the handicapped parking, as it's called, and by the way, yes, it should be changed. Handicap is very old word, which we don't use in any other sense, except in parking spots. But the bigger problem, I think, from the disability community is that people who don’t have the right to use those spaces do.
DAVISAnd I think that it makes total sense that if you can't walk, you should be able to park a little closer. It's not, again, a major problem. 99 percent of the time, it's not a problem. But people fly speck these things. They find the extreme outlier example and use that as the norm.
REHMThe word handicapped has become...
MIZRAHIIt's definitely -- it's not the N word, but it's definitely not used. We like to use people with disabilities, people first language. I think that you have to really have the person first. You call someone with a disability their name, not their condition.
MIZRAHIAnd it's, of course, very important to do that.
REHMAll right. And to Nancy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You're on the air.
NANCYHi. I also want to reiterate what the other man said about losing benefits. Because I qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, I'm eligible to purchase into the exchanges, the ACA exchanges. So therefore, I'm always having to maintain the standards which are almost impossible. I tried to go through Vocrehab, and there was this huge manual, it was very, very thick of all these things that I had to do. And it was, you know, it was virtually impossible. So, I wasn't able to get out of being under that healthcare mandate, and wasn't able to get into the exchanges.
NANCYAnd I can't lose my benefits or I will die. And just exactly what everyone was saying, the fear for us isn't the stigma. It's not, you know, being around people who don't have disabilities. It's the terror of losing benefits that are keeping us alive.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MIZRAHIThis is, this benefit issue is pivotal. It is pivotal. And the politicians in Washington frequently don’t understand it, sometimes because they didn't have the disability experience of being with people with disabilities who want to achieve. They see the Jerry Lewis telethon and they have this pity frame and they want to just keep people on benefits. I'll give you an example. In the Presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders was just asked by a member of our team, you know, what's your plan for people with disabilities to get jobs?
MIZRAHIAnd he said, well, we think they should get jobs. And then, he went immediately into defending that they should have benefits. Benefits, benefits. 70 percent of people with disabilities want to work, and I agree with the person who wrote in. 30 percent of them don't want to, they might have a chronic health condition. There's other reasons, and they're equal as human beings, those 30 percent. But right now, only 30 percent are working, and 70 percent want to be working.
REHMAll right. And to Cincinnati, Ohio. Sarah, you're on the air.
SARAHThanks so much, Diane. I always enjoy listening to your show and hearing what your guests have to say. My question is, I'll start just by saying that it seems that many job placement services for people with disabilities focus on connecting people with disabilities with low wage jobs. I'm wondering if there is job placement for those who are considered disabled, per the ADA, but are qualified for and want to work in higher wage jobs. So, for example, someone diagnosed with a mental illness who has a college degree, and/or work experience.
DAVISWell, I'm not a lawyer, or a politician to be able to talk about that in that sense, but I think the purpose of the ADA was to make sure that people exactly like the caller can apply without fear that they would be rejected. I mean, the point is that if you apply for a job and you feel that you were rejected for a medical reason or a mental reason, that you are covered under the law. And you can go to the EEOC and there will be people there who will help you fight that. But the point is that employers have to understand that they can't simply reject somebody for a disability.
MIZRAHISo, there are some companies that have started to intentionally try to hire people with disabilities because they found they're better at their jobs. So, I'm going to give you a couple of examples. So, SAP, which is a computer company, has found the quote, end quote, autism advantage that our other panelist mentioned earlier. And so has the Israeli intelligence. Also Google. They are intentionally trying to hire people on the spectrum, because they find that they are better at pattern recognition, at software development. At a lot of these thinking and solving problems.
MIZRAHIIf you look at Ernst and Young, a very large global consulting company, Young, himself, was deaf. And so, they figured out, from their original DNA of the company, because their co-founder was deaf, that frequently, people with physical differences were better at their jobs.
REHMBut is there a job placement site or company?
MIZRAHICertainly vocational rehabilitation should be dealing with these higher level career opportunities. Absolutely. And youth employment for people coming out of school is critical into good careers.
OLSONAnd yet, the best advice, I think, is network, network, network, just as for non-disabled people. Because you will find that company that understands a disability issue. You'll find there may already be a network of employees within that company that will welcome you in.
REHMWell, let's say that we are pleased with progress thus far, and hope that the situation will continue to improve. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Walter Olson, Lennard Davis, Randel Johnson, thank you all.
MIZRAHIThank you for having us.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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