ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, December 07, 2015

View From Another Angle For ADA Compliance

It’s hard to imagine that hiring managers — and particularly those with training in Human Resources — would fail to recognize the difference between important job requirements and those that are merely items on a wish list. Yet, frighteningly, they do not often separate those elements, thereby discarding candidates for employment that might be perfect for the job.

It happened to me.

Although I’d been a consultant for over 20 years, specializing in people and processes in the workplace, during the 1991 recession I thought it might be a good idea to actually accept a job working as an Organizational Development consultant within a large semiconductor company. I was well received by the out-going director and assured I had all the credentials, experience and personality they were seeking. I thought the job was mine. At one of the final stages of hiring, I was asked to complete a questionnaire by someone in HR.

One of the questions asked whether I was able to carry 40 pounds of training materials. At the time I was recovering from an automobile accident and couldn’t lift that much. Even now, fully healthy, I can barely move the 40 pounds of dog food from the car into my garage. So, being honest, I answered no. I went on to explain I could use luggage with wheels in lieu of having to lift the materials myself. Much to my surprise I did not get the position — and it was clear that the reason was because I wasn’t able to lift the materials.

Silly isn’t it? It also occurs to me now, as I write this, that this might really fall into a gender discrimination argument.  Can most women lift 40 pounds easily?  I doubt it.

I know my experience is trivial compared to some of the discriminatory practices many of you reading this column have received. It’s the silliness of it that strikes me as important. Perhaps through my experiences and ideas, we can teach hiring managers and those in HR how they can understand what really matters and how those with special needs can be helped to fit into the workplace in a manner comfortable for everyone involved.

My view is different. I am not an attorney, not in HR, not disabled and not what most would consider a “bleeding heart liberal.” I believe in freedom of choice and people’s right to make the wrong decisions. However, I really like to try to persuade people to re-think their positions and make better decisions. Thus, my willingness to write this column.

I work closely with CEOs and upper management and understand their needs to create efficient and organized workplaces with as much profit as possible. Each worker they hire, at least in theory, needs to be the best they can find for that particular position.

I agree. But, what’s that got to do with whether someone might need a ramp instead of stairs, or to use a breathing apparatus or other equipment as simple as wheels to transport 40 pounds? Usually not much.

Sure, it would be hard to be a firefighter from a wheelchair, or a detective when blind (except they are trying it in the TV series, “Blind Justice”). Certainly we can all agree there are areas in which the job itself demands special physical abilities. Those aren’t the areas though that I think require change.

But HR should recognize physical abilities often are not essential. Consider a friend of mine, who recently died from multiple sclerosis. He was a brilliant appellate attorney. Prior to the disease becoming debilitating, he was a partner in a small boutique law firm. He later moved to a much larger firm that allowed him a lesser role, a wheelchair accessible area and the ability to work from his home as much as possible. As his legs became worse, he bought an electric wheelchair, which enabled him to continue to go to his beloved sports events when friends with vans drove him. Eventually we talked him into a special van. In spite of his inabilities, he was free to roam. When his hands betrayed him, computer technology had just evolved to allow voice-activated typing. He continued to work. Up until just a very short time before he died, he was a brilliant appellate attorney contributing greatly to the law firm, his clients and the community he served.

What a difference! In the first case, the inability to lift training materials was considered important enough to deny someone well qualified for the position. In the second, everyone involved recognized the contribution of the man and worked cooperatively to make it comfortable for him to continue to do his work!

View from Another Angle is going to be a column designed to make people rethink their attitudes and views about the issues related to the ADA. Don’t expect me to be compliant to any side of the issue!


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