ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 2, November 1996) -

Table of contents

*ADA: You Need It - Just Like The Rest Of Us*

                          Emilie J. Quast
                         Library Assistant II
                          Wilson Library
                        University of Minnesota

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in
1990, forty-three million people--1 in 5 Americans (!)--were given
a new guarantee to their civil rights.  Since then, the number of
people who are protected by the ADA has risen and will continue to
rise as the Boomers grow older.

Still, not enough people know what the ADA offers.  In failing to
learn more about this civil rights legislation, people are
short-changing themselves, their families, their employers, their
employees and their clients.

Take a few minutes--learn more about it.

In briefest terms, the ADA guarantees you the job for which you are
the best qualified candidate and the right to keep that job as long
as you are able to perform the job's essential functions.  Further,
the ADA insures that education, access to stores and malls,
hospitals, bus rides, TV shows, voting booths, zoos and concerts
and telephones--normal life activities--will be available to

Seems good?  The more you learn about it, the better it gets.

Get familiar with the ADA for *your own benefit* because: if you
are planning to reach old age, you will need its protection.  If
you're able-bodied now, congratulations!  Chances are good though
that you won't live your entire life as fit as you are today.  Many
of the problems that are part of "normal" aging are problems you
can manage or even sidestep altogether with the help of the ADA.

I'm thinking about a Boy Scout leader who can drive his troop to a
campsite thanks to the handcontrol on his car--he almost got
sidelined by gout at 50.  Know anyone with arthritis, emphysema or
a heart condition who shouldn't trek across a long parking lot
anymore?  They're covered.  You're 20 years old and have whiplash
injury?  The ADA can help you get to your data entry job and keep
it.  The law will also help you get what you need to finish

Get familiar with the ADA for *your family's benefit.*  Someone is
going to have to make sure the child with a learning disorder can
get all the education she needs to give herself a good life.  If
your older parent can't get to the doctor's office, you can help
best by knowing what Dad's rights to access really are and making
sure he gets them.

Get familiar with the ADA *for your boss's benefit.*  Why?  Because
profitability of most businesses and services depends on the skills
of experienced employees.  Nothing legal can cut into a profit line
faster than the normal mistakes people make when they're new on a
job.  If you work in a service field, like on a front desk of a
library, you know already how important experience is to high
quality reference/ILL/circulation.

The bottom line is that your boss needs you for what you know.
While you are thinking that through, remember that if you're a
supervisor, you need to learn how simple accommodations can keep
your best, most experienced staff on the job, healthy and
productive.  Your unit needs what experienced staff can produce
too, so get familiar with  the ADA *for your employees' sake.*

Finally, get familiar with the ADA *for your clients' sake.*
Remember that your clients' access to your skills is guaranteed,
whether they need ADA protection to get into the library or you
need the protection to stay on the job to help them.

A few misconceptions...

Some of the ideas people have about what the ADA does and doesn't
do have reached the levels of myth, fantasy and wishful thinking.
To clear up a couple of them...

1) Who is covered?

A person is covered by the ADA if they have a long term physical,
emotional or mental condition that substantially limits their
ability to perform a major life activity (walking, seeing, doing
manual tasks, learning, etc.), *or* if they have had such a
condition, *or* if they are perceived as having such a condition
even if they don't have it, *or* if they have an association with
an individual with such a condition.

A broken leg or pregnancy may interfere with job performance
temporarily, but these are not covered by the ADA.  Long term
problems, even though they may seem similar or though they may not
be observable, may be covered, however.

You are probably protected by the ADA if you have arthritis,
whiplash injury, HIV, severe allergies, depression, heart problems,
PTSD, dyslexia or other long-term problems that interfere with
common life tasks.

2) Accommodation is too expensive.

There are two separate responses to this.

First, most on the job accommodation is free or very inexpensive.
Government and private studies alike show that most on the job
accommodations involve reassigning non-essential tasks in a work
group, permitting a certain level of flex time, purchasing a
footrest or a new mouse, adjusting the relative heights of a chair
or a desk.  Creativity goes a long way in accommodation.

Second, we need to look at the cost of poor quality, then think
about how much society has denied itself by not supplying
accommodations to people who need them.

What we're finding is that expensive accommodations are often used
the most  as life enhancements by people without disabilities--you
and me.  Ramps and automatic doors in apartment buildings, offices,
libraries and other areas of public access are most appreciated by
movers, delivery people and people with their arms full.  Who knows
how many sprains and falls never happened because of those
"wheelchair" ramps?

When drinking fountains get lowered for use from a wheelchair,
little kids can get a drink, by themselves, without slipping and
chipping their teeth.  They can now use public phones, too, for the
same reason.

Curb cuts were supposed to be for wheelchairs, but bikes, wagons,
rollerblades, strollers, two-wheeled grocery and luggage carts are
wearing them smooth.

Television and video closed captioning, intended for the deaf, is
being used to teach people to read, both new readers or second
language learners.  Closed captioning lets people catch a program
in a noisy environment without turning up the volume, or people can
turn the sound off the set to keep the noise level down, and
never miss a bit of the program.  Closed captioning, like many
other changes triggered by the ADA, is improving life for all of

And in the future...

We'll be seeing the biggest advantage of the ADA in years to come
and it's going to be exciting.  Slowly at first and then with more
frequency, as more and more of our population enters the mainstream
of life earlier, as we stay longer, with better education, better
skills and access to better tools, with higher expectations from
those tools, our environment, our culture and our lives are going
to change.  I believe those changes will be for the better.

Hyperbole?  Possibly, but I don't think so.  Without wanting to
carry the point too far, I do think the drive and focus to overcome
obstacles strengthen a person's character.  Creativity and
flexibility don't hurt a bit either.  The new kids coming up, who
have been forced to accept being different, who have worked hard to
get into the mainstream, are going to change our culture.
Creativity, flexibility, focus and drive is how they learned to
cope.  Society has got to be better off for having these people
out and working.

It's no small point, either, that while the kids are forcing their
way into the mainstream, they are teaching other people that
special needs are not all that special. We are all learning a more
flexible mindset about ramps and wheelchairs and expecting people
to make their own way in the world.

That brings us to the bottom line again.  More of that one-fifth of
the population, thanks to the ADA, can enter the workforce, and
many of them couldn't before.  People are going to stay in the
workforce longer, earn more money, spend money, pay taxes--live a
normal life.  Taken together, that beats living on SSI, or retiring
too early on not enough and generally
stepping outside active life.

Finding more about the ADA...

The Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center hotline
number: 1-800-949-4232

A new Dept. of Justice site is at

The Job Accommodation network is 1-800-526-7234 (v or TDD)

The Alliance for Technology Access can be reached at

St. John's University in New York has a particularly well developed
archive on ADA. Search by gopher to New York, St. John's,
Disability and Rehabilitation Resources, EASI, for a wealth of
information, including the full text of the law, highlights of
Titles II & III, fact sheets by the DOJ, a partial list of relevant
Canadian laws, Section 508, a self study kit for colleges, the
Cornucopia, Axlib, an ADA bibliography, and much, much more.

If you have specific questions about this article, send them to me
direct at   I'll try to find an answer for you
or I'll send them along to someone who can give you a good answer.