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Open your doors to the disabled - it's the law.

By complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act on time, labs will reduce their legal liability while benefiting from the contributions of hard-working employees they may have shut out.

When President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in July 1990, he noted that the legislation would insure the disabled "independence, freedom of choice, control of their own lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream."[1] Heralded as "the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in 25 years,"[2] the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against the disabled with regard to hiring, firing, salary, training, promotion, and any other term or condition of employment. Besides being an employment law, this act expands for many their access to leisure opportunities and the nation's public accommodations.

Large laboratories should already have taken all the steps necessary to comply with the ADA, since it took effect in workplaces of 25 or more employees on July 26, 1992. Small laboratories and other employers of 15 to 24 employees have until July 26, 1994, to follow suit.

Legislation designed to protect the rights of certain disabled employees is not new to the business world. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 made it illegal for companies receiving more than $2,500 from Medicare, Medicaid, or other Federal agencies to discriminate against the handicapped. The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 extended the scope of this law by applying it to all programs and activities receiving Federal funding, whether the funds were expended or not. The 1973 law is still in effect, including the stipulation that businesses holding Federal contracts of $50,000 or more and those employing 50 or more persons develop and enforce a written affirmative action plan to hire and promote qualified handicapped individuals.[3]

The ADA, an antidiscrimination statute, takes the 1973 affirmative action program a step further by including employers that do not receive Federal funds. For example, labs that deal solely with HMOs may fall into this category. Employers should recognize that they must now comply Path both laws.[2]

* Powerful statistics. The Americans with Disabilities Act notes that 43 million inhabitants of the United States are currently disabled. The National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research in Bethesda, Md., published statistics on these individuals in 1990 (Figure 1).
 Figure I
 Statistics on America's disabled
Hearing impairment 22 million
Totally deaf 2 million
Developmental disability (for example, cerebral
palsy or mental retardation) 9.2 million
Speech impediment 2.1 million
Epilepsy 2 million(1)
Partially or completely paralyzed 1.2 million
Use a wheelchair paralyzed 1 million
Legally blind 60,000
Totally blind 120,000
Work related disability (ages 16 to (64) 13.4 million(2)
(1.) Of this group, 80% do not suffer from seizures, which are controlled by med
(2.) Of this group, 31.6% are either working or actively seeking work - true of
87.6% of Americans
without disabilities.
Source: "Fact Sheet on the Americans with Disabilities Act." Washington, D.C., P
Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, July 1, 1991.

Helping the disabled find work will reap financial as well as social benefits for the country. The Federal government spends a tremendous amount of money subsidizing the unemployed disabled. In fiscal year 1986, total disability expenditures amounted to $169.4 billion, a combination of Social Security disability insurance, supplemental security income, workers' compensation, Welfare, and private transfer payments for workers injured on the job. in FY 1987, Social Security alone paid out $28.2 billion in benefits to the unemployed disabled.[4]

According to the results of a 1986 poll by the Louis Harris organization of New York City, in which some 900 managers from various business arenas were interviewed, nearly all respondents (95%) felt the disabled work just as hard as other employees, if not harder. Almost 40% said that disabled workers have better attendance records and are more punctual than nondisabled employees; another 40% rated the handicapped about equal to other employees in these areas. Despite these accolades, three out of four managers admitted that employers often discriminated against the disabled. While some 75% agreed that hiring the disabled costs about the same as hiring anyone else, only 43% said their institutions have done So.[4]

* Who is covered? To receive protection under the ADA, an applicant or employee must have a substantial current or previously documented physical or mental impairment or be regarded as having such an impairment. A "substantial impairment" limits or restricts a major activity of life, such as sight, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, self-care, learning, or working. Except for those with substantial impairment, as defined above, the law specifically excludes homosexuals; bisexuals; transsexuals; persons with sexual behavior disorders, including gender identity disorders that have not resulted from physical impairment; compulsive gamblers; kleptomaniacs; pyromaniacs; people with psychoactive substance abuse disorders; and individuals engaged in the illegal use of drugs.

For protection under the ADA, an individual must be both disabled and qualified to perform the essential functions of the job in question. A laboratorian who lacks a specific job requirement - an academic degree, pertinent experience, professional certification, or state licensure, for example - is not covered, providing that all other people in that job classification must meet the same criteria.

In addition, the law prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified nondisabled individual who is associated with a disabled person. For example, if the qualified person has a disabled family member, friend, or business associate who might require extensive care, the potential need for the prospective employee to take time off from work to care for the disabled individual does not constitute sufficient cause to deny employment.[2]

* Employers' obligations. Employers now must focus their attention on two major responsibilities. First, they must establish nondiscriminatory guidelines for their application procedures, qualification standards, and selection criteria as well as for all other terms and conditions of employment. Second, they must be ready to accommodate the known limitations of qualified applicants or employees who are disabled, unless doing so would cause undue hardship on the employer. Accommodations are considered an undue hardship if they demand "an action that is unduly costly, extensive, substantial, [or] disruptive, or that will fundamentally alter the nature of the program."[5]

Studies have shown that over 70% of accommodations for disabled employees cost less than $500; 50% cost less than $50.[4] (These figures were published in 1990.) Employers should keep in mind that they may be eligible for tax incentives for providing accommodation for disabled employees.

More information on the ADA is available by writing to the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities at 1331 F St., N.W., Third Floor, Washington, DC 20004. You may also call the Job Accommodation Network in Morgantown, W.Va., at (800) ADA-WORK. Recommendations for laboratory supervisors to keep in mind while striving to comply with ADA regulations are offered in "Five suggestions for abiding by ADA guide-lines,"

Five suggestions for abiding by ADA guidelines

Reevaluate existing job descriptions

All job descriptions should be reviewed, and possibly redefined, to outline their "essential functions" accurately.(1) Doing so will help employers determine whether an applicant, disabled or not, is qualified to fill a particular position. These descriptions should list only the major activities performed, not those done on occasion or under unusual circumstances.(2)

Job duties and requisite skills should be defined with consideration of any reasonable accommodations necessary for a disabled person. To avoid being accused of discrimination, employers should update all appropriate job descriptions before running classified ads or conducting interviews.

Reviews application and selection process

Employers need to assess the areas of the building used to accept applications and interview prospective employees. Rooms should be accessible by wheelchairs; someone should available to help the visually impaired read application forms. Employers should make sure the language on employment applications is nondiscriminatory.(3)

Employers may not ask disabled applicants about the severity or nature of illness. They may, however, ask applicants to describe or demonstrate how they would perform the essential duties of their jobs with or without reasonable accommodation. In addition, disabled applicants may not be forced to take a physical examination before being offered a position but may asked to do so once a job offer has been made, if all other employees in that job category must undergo the same exam. Information revealed during the examination may not be used to reject the applicant unless the condition would interfere with the individual's ability to perform the essential functions of the job.

Consider accommodation for disabled staff

Employers can provide many kinds of accommodation for disabled lab personnel. These include installing a ramp for wheelchairs or crutches, adjusting the height of a lab bench to enable a worker to reach an instrument, acquiring or modifying equipment or devices (for instance, installing voice output on computers), exchanging some laboratorian's duties with others', rescheduling employees, and hiring extra clerical staff. Under the Disabled Access Credit ([section]44 of the Internal Revenue Service code), small businesses can receive up to $50,000 per year in tax breaks by making the workplace more accessible to disabled employees and customers. The Tax Credit on Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal law ([section] 190 of the IRS code) allows large businesses up to $15,000 a year for the same purpose.

The ADA has assigned to disabled employees responsibility for making sure their employers understand their physical needs in all areas of the workplace, including restrooms and cafeterias. If a particular modification is expensive and the employer's resources are limited, the employee must be given the option of paying for at least a portion of the accomodation. Employers are cautioned against viewing this stipulation as a loophole. Doing so could result in a discrimination lawsuit.

Study retention, promotions, rewards

If a disabled worker's performance is not up to par, the employer has the right to take appropriate action. Still, the promotion and tenure of people with disabilities must be based on their ability to do the essential functions of the job with any needed reasonable accommodation.

Educate supervisors and other staff

Some individuals are uncomfortable working with disabled colleagues. Lab managers must help educate supervisors in matters pertaining to nondiscriminatory actions. Staff members need to understand the contributions disabled persons can make to the success of laboratory operations. Employers should consider inviting the director of human resources into the lab to explain appropriate disability laws and procedures. Holding staff meetings and passing out appropriate literature can help enlighten employees as well.

(1.) "ADA Compliance Guide," pp. 25-28. Washington, D. C., Thompson Publishing Group, 1990. (2.) Appleby, G.S. Understanding personnel law. Presented at the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Atlanta, Sept. 13, 1991. (3.) Noble, B.P. When business need not fret. The New York Times, section 3, p. 25, June 7, 1992.

[1.] George Bush, Presidential signing ceremony, Washington, D.C., July 26, 1990. [2.] "ADA Compliance Guide," pp. 13-17, 71-75. Washington, D.C., Thompson Publishing Group 1990. [3.] Anderson, K Recruitment, hiring, and orientation of laboratory personnel. In: Karni, K. R. Viskochil, K.R. and Amos, P.A., eds. "Clinical Laboratory Management," p. 191. Boston, Litte, Brown 1982, [4.] "Fact Sheet on the Americans with Disabilities Act" Washington, D.C., President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, July 1, 1991. [5.] U.S. Senate Report 101-116, accompanied by ADA public law 101-336.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
Author:Snyder, John R.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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