Recognizing and Overcoming Disability Discrimination
By: Janet Ambrose
Disability discrimination is illegal. For example, when a disabled person is denied access to a public place, or denied the ability to work, this is considered disability discrimination in the legal sense of the term. People throwing insults or looking at disabled people strangely are also discriminating against them. Anyone who abuses a disabled person is also breaking the law by not only harming the helpless individual, but also discriminating against them. Disability discrimination is serious, and should be taken so. Anyone who is the victim of disability discrimination, or anyone who witnesses it, should take immediate action.
Legislation Against Disability Discrimination
Despite the great strides the United States of America has taken against all forms of discrimination, there are still people out there who discriminate against others. This includes people who discriminate against disabled persons. It is hard to tell why people choose to treat disabled persons poorly, but because they do, the federal government has taken steps to protect the civil rights of the disabled. This action is legalized in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The latter is commonly known as the ADA.
The 1973 legislation dealt primarily with protecting disabled persons who were interested in gaining employment with the federal government, or with organizations or agencies financed by the federal government. In this case, any federal agency or organization was barred from disability discrimination in their hiring and firing processes. This secured jobs for disabled people within the federal employment system. It also protected those already employed from unlawful firing due to an unexpected disability.
The 1990 ADA took the 1973 legislation to the next crucial level. This law added private companies and state and local governments to the list of employers barred from disability discrimination within their hiring practices. What did this mean? It meant that as long as the disabled employee could perform the duty equally as well as an employee who was not disabled, the disabled employee was protected against acts the prevented the employee from being hired, or being afforded the tools necessary to complete their assigned tasks. It also meant that nobody, regardless of their disability, could be fired solely on the fact that they were disabled. Fortunately, these laws and their conditions still stand today.
Therefore, any disabled person who is not afforded the opportunity to apply and compete for qualified work, or any disabled person who is not given the appropriate tools to perform their assigned work, or any disabled person who has been fired because they are disabled might be the victim of disability discrimination; but these laws don't just cover the workplace. Federal disability laws also protect disabled people from disability discrimination in public. Depending on when a building was constructed, disabled people have a legal right to have access to any public building and its facilities, including the restrooms.
Public Protection Against Disability Discrimination
If a disabled person cannot enter a public building that they need to conduct business in, this is considered disability discrimination. Building amenities, such as parking stalls, elevators, and restrooms need to accommodate the disabled. Automatic teller machines, certain types of public phones, and cross walk signals need to accommodate the disabled. All of these things that people take advantage of every day can become impossible for a disabled person to use or navigate through. This is another form of disability discrimination.
The federal government has created a three-tiered approach to the prevention of disability discrimination when it comes to public facilities. The three tiers are: Any government building must be built or modified to meet ADA requirements for disabled persons. Any building constructed after the dates of the disability acts must be constructed per the requirements protecting disabled persons. Any building that is to be significantly renovated or remodeled must be done so to meet the current ADA regulations for disabled persons. The only buildings exempt from ADA regulations are public buildings construction prior to the dates of the legislation or historical landmarks that cannot be renovated. It is not considered disability discrimination if a disabled person cannot access these types of buildings.
Rising Above Disability Discrimination
If the federal government feels it necessary to protect the rights of the disabled so much so that it enacted legislation to protect people against disability discrimination, then why do people still discriminate? This is an age-old question that will never be answered. For centuries, mankind has discriminated against others who were "different from them. Whether religious, racial, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disabled, discrimination is hurtful and, in some horrific cases, violent. How does a disabled person rise above the sneers, looks, gestures, or inability to do something they should have the right to do? The strength comes both inward and outward.
Disabled people should know outwardly that federal law protects them. Just like Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus propelled the civil rights of African-Americans, no disabled person can legally be denied access to a public place, be it a building or form of public transportation, because they are disabled. Outwardly, disabled people have the same rights as others, and they cannot be discriminated against because they are disabled. Any instance of disability discrimination in public, whether in the workplace or out and about, should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities.
Disabled people should know inwardly that they are equals, and they should be proud of who they are and how special they are. There is no taking away the pain of disability discrimination, but no disabled person should ever let the hatred and ignorance of somebody else bring them down. Overcoming the negative stereotypes that surround disabled persons is the first step in knowing inwardly that there is no difference between the disabled and the enabled. A support system is key in overcoming disability discrimination. All disabled people should have a strong network of family and friends to emotionally support them when things go awry. Embracing the disability and working around it is essential for proving to the disabled, and the people around them, that they are just like everybody else and deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect.