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Letter to the Editor.

Resources for Employers Of the Disabled

At the kind invitation of the American Correctional Association's (ACA's) legislative liaison, I attended a workshop titled "The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Accommodating Staff in the Correctional Environment" at the 129th Congress of Correction. As the moderator noted, departments of correction (DOCs) are expanding their focus under this civil right law. Rather than concentrating on ADA's effect on inmates, DOCs are beginning to focus their attention on employment provisions as well.

Because not all ACA members were able to attend this seminar, I would like to reinforce a few points made in the presentation. I also would like to offer some resources that may be useful in handling employment questions related to staff or job applicants with disabilities.

Overall, the workshop panel did a good job of presenting the key issues of the employment of disabled people in the corrections field. I commend Steve Chavez of Colorado's attorney general's office for reminding the audience that Congress intended ADA's employment provisions to be an interactive process. In other words, DOC employers should undertake a good-faith effort to discuss and examine all options with a disabled employee who requests an accommodation.

It also is true, as Chavez pointed out, that a specific description of a position's essential duties are critical during the evaluation of a disabled person. However, if someone with a disability proves capable of fulfilling those essential functions, he or she cannot be denied employment. The Los Angeles County Police Department recently was sued for rejecting someone with a below-knee amputation -- this person passed all the department's entrance requirement tests, including the physical test for endurance, strength, agility and balance.

Unfortunately, few, if any, people attending the workshop seemed to be aware of the free technical assistance available to employers who have questions about accommodating workers with disabilities. The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities offers the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which advises employers and individuals on accommodations for people with disabilities. JAN can be reached at 1-800-526-7234 (voice/TDD/TTY) or at its Web site:

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (access board) provides guidance on making structural modifications for employees with disabilities. Its toll-free technical assistance number is 1-800-872-2253.

Finally, ACA members may be interested in a report issued in September 1998 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights titled Helping State and Local Governments Comply With the ADA. The report devotes several sections of its fourth chapter to the correctional context of ADA. Publications can be ordered from the commission by calling (202) 376-8128.

ADA should not be viewed with suspicion or alarm by employers. There are a variety of resources to help explain the requirements of the law, outline the obligations of both employer and employee, and offer information about making work sites accessible. Through such tools, your department may not only avoid costly and time-consuming litigation, but also retain valuable employees who will provide many more years of meritorious service.

Susan Prokop

Associate Advocacy Director

Paralyzed Veterans of America

Washington, D.C.
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Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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