From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. And it’s even harder to believe I’ve been working at JAN almost as long! I started working as a JAN consultant in March 1992, just before the employment provisions of the ADA went into effect. It was an amazing opportunity to witness the development of a law from the beginning and to talk to employers and individuals with disabilities as they began to apply the law. Over the years, I was able to follow national trends as experienced by JAN customers, many attributable to legal interpretations in the federal courts.
In the beginning, the people who contacted JAN for information about the ADA were looking for basics – who was covered, who had to comply, what was required, where to get information, etc. Our main source of information at the time was the Title I Technical Assistance Manual from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This publication is still one of the best resources for understanding the basics of the ADA.
The Golden Years
Once people understood the basics, we started getting more questions about reasonable accommodation – what was required, how to determine undue hardship, what accommodations might help, etc. This was a great time for us – having so many people interested in accommodations was very exciting; we felt like we were part of a national movement to improve the employment rate of people with disabilities.
The Dark Years
Unfortunately, that began to change as ADA cases made their way into the federal court system. Case after case was decided on the basis of whether the plaintiff met the ADA’s definition of disability and most of the time the answer was no. After a while it became ridiculous – people with medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, intellectual disabilities, diabetes, and HIV were determined not to meet the definition of disability. As a result, our callers began to focus more on the definition of disability rather than reasonable accommodation so we in turn began to focus on practical reasons why employers should provide accommodations regardless of whether an employee meets the definition of disability. This approach worked some of the time, but not as often as we would have liked. If was a frustrating period.
Fortunately, in 2008 Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act, which broadened the definition of disability to cover individuals the ADA originally intended to cover. After a short period of questions about the amended definition of disability, the focus of our calls again shifted to reasonable accommodation where it remains today. The questions we get about accommodations have gotten more complex, but we see that as an indication that more people are asking for and receiving accommodations so we’re happy to work hard to provide useful information.
There are many accommodation issues making their way through the court system so we’re sure we’ll see new trends developing that will impact our services. Some of the issues that currently spark the most debate in our calls include leave as an accommodation, service animals in the workplace, modified schedules, and believe it or not, parking. Who knows what the future holds, but for now we’re enjoying the resurgence of interest in reasonable accommodation. So if you have questions about the ADA or accommodations, please contact us.