The University Record, September 28, 1992

Disabilities act prompts changes in employment rules

By Mary Jo Frank

Want to ask how a job applicant with an obvious disability became disabled? How he or she copes at home, with life?

Or perhaps you’re interviewing a candidate who has a child with a disability or who does volunteer work with people with AIDS. If hired, you wonder, would the employee have to take a lot of time off to care for the child? What if the employee gets AIDS?

Asking personal questions that don’t relate to an applicant’s ability to perform a particular job is illegal under Title I of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Title I of the ADA, which covers employment rules, went into effect July 26. It is also illegal to not hire a person because of associations—having a disabled family member or participating in activities that put the person in contact with others with disabilities.

Brian L. Clapham, affirmative action representative and the University’s ADA coordinator, says employers and supervisors can ask job applicants if they are able to perform job tasks with or without an accommodation. If they indicate they can do the tasks with an accommodation, it is permissible to ask them how they would perform the tasks and what accommodations would be necessary for them to do the job.

The job applicants’ qualifications are all that matter, Clapham says. The most qualified applicant should get the job, regardless of real or imagined concerns about a disability.

The public has a lot of misconceptions about the ADA. Some mistakenly think that if anyone with a disability shows up, the person has to be hired, Clapham says. That’s not true. If the person is qualified, he or she must be given fair consideration. The ADA doesn’t set quotas.

One change the University has made in response to the ADA is that it no longer asks on employment applications if the applicant has a handicap.

Changing employment rules, like installing ramps for accessibility, are concrete ways the University is complying with the ADA.

However, even when all physical barriers are removed, persons with disabilities still can be denied equal access because of attitudinal barriers on the part of faculty, staff and students, Clapham says.

Building ramps and widening bathroom stalls is easy. “The tougher part is getting people in the building to judge the person with a disability on what he or she can do,” he adds.

Many ADA requirements mirror those of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which the University and other institutions who receive federal contracts have followed for the past 15 years.

The ADA extends protection to include private employers with 25 or more employees. (Employers with 15 or more employees will be covered as of July 26, 1994). It also gives persons with disabilities more legal remedies, including larger monetary damages, if they are discriminated against, Clapham says.

Title II of the ADA, which deals with “public entities” such as the University, was effective Jan. 26, 1992. It requires the U-M to have an ADA coordinator to field complaints and to coordinate compliance efforts.

Any individual may file a complaint alleging non-compliance with the ADA, or other applicable federal or state laws that protect persons with disabilities by contacting Clapham.

The University has adopted internal procedures for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of disability. These procedures are contained in the Response and Procedures section of the Faculty/Staff Sexual Harassment Policy that was effective Nov. 1, 1991.

The ADA also requires institutions and firms with 50 or more employees develop a transition plan for buildings to make sure they are accessible.

The U-M doesn’t have to renovate every building, Clapham says, but services and programs have to be equally accessible. The U-M could remove barriers, move the class or program to an accessible location or find some other way to provide the service to individuals, he explains.

“Every situation is different. There are no blanket formulas,” he adds.

The University’s Accessibility Task Force and the ADA Transition Plan committee have been soliciting comments from individuals and campus groups on buildings that need the most work. Copies of the Transition Plan are available from the Affirmative Action Office, Room 6041, Fleming Administration Building.

The groups are also looking at improving signage in campus buildings.

Informative signs and modifications such as power doors on some entrances help everyone, not just persons with disabilities, Clapham notes.

Construction and renovations that started after Jan. 26 must meet ADA standards of accessibility.

The ADA also requires firms and institutions that employ more than 50 persons to perform a self-evaluation to determine if their policies and practices make them accessible to persons with disabilities.

The University begins that process this month under the guidance of the ADA Self-Evaluation Steering Committee. The final report, which must be completed by Jan. 26, 1993, will be available for public review.

Such a self-evaluation was last done in 1978 to comply with the Rehabilitation Act. “It is a good opportunity for the University to take stock, to see how far it has progressed in 14 years,” Clapham says.

“I am confident we will see a lot of improvement.”