Disability Rights Under Attack by Congress

"Everyone is just one bad day away from needing accessible options the #ADA requires to help them get around," tweeted Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Rights for Americans with disabilities are under attack in a bill disguised as reform of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, requires people with disabilities to file a formal complaint with the Justice Department if they are denied access to a public place. The business in question has 60 days to acknowledge the complaint and then another 120 days to make "substantial progress" in correcting the ADA violation. They are not during this time required to actually fix the problem.

Only after this six-month period can people with disabilities take legal action — if the business has made no "substantial progress," a subjective term that means the problem could remain unsolved forever. Businesses are left with no incentive to actually fix the problem — which never should have existed in the first place under the 28-year-old ADA.

No other civil rights statute imposes such requirements. But the House passed the bill 225-192.

Supporters of the bill say it will prevent people from filing frivolous lawsuits against businesses while allowing for a "notice and cure" period.

But defenders of civil rights for people with disabilities say the bill essentially lets businesses off the hook for complying with ADA, which has been in place for nearly three decades — while putting the burden of the real "reform" right on the group whose rights are supposed to be protected.

"The idea that places of public accommodation should receive a free pass for six months before correctly implementing a law that has been a part of our legal framework for nearly three decades creates an obvious disincentive for ADA compliance," Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island said during debate on the House floor.

Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, lives with the reality of a disability each and every day and has since he was 16 years old — before the ADA was enacted.

"Has the Congress really become so divorced from the human experience of the disability community that we're willing to sacrifice their rights because it's easier than targeting the root of the problem? Are people with disabilities, people like me, so easily disregarded?" he said.

Following the vote Langevin said in a statement that "justice delayed is justice denied," adding that he is "saddened that Congress sent a message to people with disabilities that we are not equal, or worthy of the same civil rights protections as others."

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both her legs while serving as an air assault helicopter pilot in Iraq, posted a series of tweets ahead of the House's passage urging Congress to vote against the measure.

"Ever since I lost my legs when an RPG tore thru the cockpit of my Blackhawk I was flying over Iraq, getting around has been difficult—even w/the #ADA, I can't always enter public spaces & have to spend a lot of time planning how to get frm 1 place to the next," she wrote.

"I understand that not everyone thinks about these things because for most of my adult life I didn't either. But the truth is that everyone is just one bad day away from needing accessible options the #ADA requires to help them get around," she added. "If you don't live with a disability, you might not think of #ADA violations as significant at 1st glance, but I assure you they're significant for those of us who do live with disabilities."

Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and chair of the board of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), also pointed out the negative impact this bill will have on businesses.

"The more than 57 million Americans with disabilities are an important customer base that businesses cannot afford to lose. Further, inaccessible businesses lose out on an enormous talent pool of employees with disabilities," he wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill.

"In my work with the National Organization on Disability, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the benefits that leading companies reap from welcoming employees and customers with disabilities. This bill would rob businesses of the customers and the talent they desperately need," he added.

"'Substantial progress' is the same as 'due process' that was used as an endless stall tactic by the South to avoid legally mandatory desegregation," said Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc and vice chairman of the board for NOD.

Indeed, according to Nielsen (No. 32 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity), the power of people with disabilities in the consumer market should not be underestimated: "More than one in three households in the U.S. has a person that identifies with a disability, representing spending power that exceeds $1 billion."

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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Originally Published by National Organization on Disability.

On November 1st, the National Organization on Disability held our Corporate Leadership Council Fall Luncheon and Roundtable. Hosted at Sony's New York offices, the event centered on the topic of mental health in the workplace.

Members of our Board of Directors and executives from nearly 40 companies held a candid conversation, heard from business leaders, and participated in an insightful Q&A where successful strategies were discussed to accommodate and support employees with mental illness in the workplace.

"Mental illness is the single biggest cause of disability worldwide," said Craig Kramer, a panelist at the event and Chair of Johnson & Johnson's Global Campaign on Mental Health. "One out of four people will have a clinically diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives," he continued. Another 20 to 25% of the population will be caregivers to loved ones with a mental illness.

The costs are staggering. "In the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined…. It's trillions of dollars," said Kramer.

From an employer's perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. But what are the most effective ways to confront this challenge? Roundtable participants discussed a wide range of ideas and success stories aimed at de-stigmatizing mental health and incorporating the issue into wider conversations around talent, productivity, and inclusion.

6 KEY TAKEAWAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE:

  1. Be empathetic. "The most important workplace practice [with respect to mental health] is empathy," said NOD President Carol Glazer. Empathy is critical for normalizing conversations about mental health, but also for maximizing productivity. "A feeling of psychological safety is important," said Lori Golden, a panelist and Abilities Strategy Leader for Ernst & Young; and this sense of safety requires the empathy of colleagues to flourish.
  2. Tell stories. "Nothing is more activating of empathy than for people to share their powerful stories," said Dr. Ronald Copeland, NOD Board member and Senior Vice President of National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Policy and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Kaiser Permanente. Copeland's organization partners with the renowned nonprofit, Story Corps, to capture the stories of Kaiser Permanente employees, and also provides a platform on the company intranet for employees to communicate in a safe space. Both Craig Kramer and Lori Golden also shared examples of how their companies provide opportunities to share their stories and "start the conversation, break the silence," as Kramer put it.
  3. Model from the top. Carol Glazer received a standing ovation at the luncheon for her account of her own experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of executive-level modeling sends a powerful message that a company is committed to improving mental health for all employees. Lori Golden shared how EY had experienced great success with a program where top-level managers host office-specific events and share stories of mental illness or addiction that they are personally connected to – either about their colleagues or loved ones or, in a surprisingly high number of instances, about themselves. Senior leadership setting the example conveys that this is a forum in which employees can feel comfortable sharing.
  4. Communicate peer-to-peer. "We all know that there's greater trust of our own peers than there is of the organization," said Lori Golden. So to build trust, EY "took it to the grass roots," creating formal opportunities for employees to have conversations about mental health and asking other ERGs to co-sponsor these events. Craig Kramer also noted that Johnson & Johnson had simply folded mental health issues into their global disability ERGs, eventually building the world's second-largest mental health ERG by piggy-backing on existing infrastructure and leveraging existing connections.
  5. Be flexible. Accommodating [the fact that people live busy, complex lives] gets you better buy-in…and keeps production pretty high," suggested Dr. Copeland. A representative from one Council company concurred, explaining how their company has recently instituted a new policy of paid time off for caregivers on top of federally-funded leave. "Being in a culture in which we measure what you produce and not whether you show up in person all day, every day, and where if you can't be there, you negotiate how the deliverables will get done and in what time frame…is immensely helpful to people who themselves have mental illness issues or addiction or are caring for those who do and may need some flexibility," summarized Lori Golden.
  6. Build a trustworthy Employee Action Plan. Many employees do not access or even trust their organization's internal resources. According to Craig Kramer, the percentage of calls placed to most company Employee Action Plans (EAPs) regarding mental health is "in the low single digits," while "if you look at your drug spend, you'll find that around 50% is [related to] mental health." The people answering those calls must be trained in mental health issues, and employees also need to be assured that EAPs are truly confidential.

While revealing and accommodating mental illness remains a massive challenge in the workplace and beyond, a number of successful strategies are emerging for tackling this challenge – many of them pioneered by companies in NOD's Corporate Leadership Council.

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Originally Published by National Organization on Disability.

Kaiser Permanente's focus on reducing mental health stigma for consumers and members also applies to its own employees. The National Organization on Disability caught up with Ron Copeland, MD, to understand how to best create a supportive and inclusive workplace for people who are experiencing a mental health condition.

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