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NEW FEDERAL DISABILITIES ACT FINDS MANY UNPREPARED, MAGAZINE REPORTS

 NEW FEDERAL DISABILITIES ACT FINDS MANY UNPREPARED,
 MAGAZINE REPORTS
 CLEVELAND, April 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Employers who haven't heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by now had best come out of hibernation, advises Industry Week (IW) magazine in its April 6 issue.
 For starters, the business publication says, provisions went into effect 10 weeks ago that require companies to make their facilities accessible to the estimated 43 million people in the U.S. with disabilities. Second, provisions designed to prevent discrimination in hiring, promotion or any other aspect of employment go into effect July 26 for companies with 25 or more employees.
 Unfortunately, many employers are not only unprepared to deal with ADA but are also downright scared, says IW. For the most part, they have heard a steady stream of pronouncements as to what they can't do -- or what they have to do -- to comply with the new law.
 And, there is plenty of that. For example, employers no longer will be able to ask someone if he or she has -- or has ever had -- a physical or mental disability. They have to put in ramps or curb cuts to provide access to their buildings, and remodel restroom facilities. The can no longer assume that someone with a physical handicap cannot perform a job because it looks like he can't. And they will need telecommunications devices for the deaf that enable them, through a teletypewriter, to communicate with others.
 What's more, those with disabilities, under ADA, encompass more than people with hearing or vision problems or in a wheelchair. It includes those with emotional disturbances, mental illnesses, people recovering from physical problems, someone with a physical scar, and recovered drug and alcohol users.
 Yet lost amid worries about the cost of compliance and how ADA will change the way companies operate is perhaps the overriding fact, IW says: Employers -- because they are looking strictly at the legal requirements -- are ignoring the intent of the law, which is to take the spotlight off people's disabilities and get employers to focus on what individuals can do and how employers can help them fit into the mainstream workforce.
 Many employers are missing an opportunity to tap into a group of workers previously ignored except by the most - enlightened employers who -- long before ADA was even an idea -- had already begun using common-sense, inexpensive workplace changes to employ workers with disabilities.
 IW uses its cover "model" as a prime example. (The cover depicts a man in a wheelchair with the image of the wheels fading.) Before an auto accident left him paralyzed, Mark Shepherd served six years in the army including four years as a Presidential Honor Guard, worked five years as a Defense Department shipyard machinist, and served as a police officer and SWAT team member in Walnut Creek, Calif. A graduate of St. Mary's College of California, Shepherd currently is director of consumer marketing for Invacare Corp./Action Technology, North Ridgeville, Ohio which manufactures wheelchairs and other health-related products. A top wheelchair athlete, he competes nationally and internationally in basketball, tennis and road racing.
 Some positive corporate examples that IW cites:
 Little Tykes Co., Hudson, Ohio, has 15 hearing-impaired workers -- six in assembly, eight in component part manufacturing, and one in its employee store. Last summer it created transitional jobs to enable its employees who were on workers compensation to return to work sooner.
 Since 1988, Magnum Assembly Inc. Austin, Tex., has hired more than 30 people with disabilities or emotional problems -- three of whom have become supervisions. All had received training from Goodwill Industries Inc. of Central Texas.
 The University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Mass., employs nearly 400 people with disabilities and has a full-time staff person -- herself a polio victim with the use of one arm from the elbow down -- to help those with disabilities.
 The most remarkable example of how people with disabilities can be incorporated into the mainstream is probably Omron Kyoto Taiyo Electronics Co., Ltd. (a joint venture between Omron Corp. and Japan Sun Industries). The company designed and built a factory -- which opened in Kyoto, Japan, in 1986 -- specifically to accommodate workers with disabilities. The plant has 191 workers -- 155 of them disabled. Since it is difficult for many employees to carry heavy objects , the production facilities were designed around automated conveyor belt systems that transport materials and parts to the workers. What's more, the height of the production lines were built to fit the average height -- 3 feet, 10 inches -- of people in wheelchairs. There are ramps, sliding doors that have sensors so that they open automatically when a wheelchair approaches, level floors, work areas 50 percent wider than conventional work areas, and operating switches that have been placed within easy reach.
 "Too often, all the employer sees is the disability, not the person," says Carol Hoffman, professor of rehabilitation education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "There has to be a change among employers to focus on what a person with a disability can do," she says. "We, as a society, don't think of people with disabilities as capable of working. We need to replace those groundless fears and prejudices with a mindset that questions whether the way jobs are being done is necessarily the right or only way."
 Industry Week is the industry management magazine of Penton Publishing.
 -0- 4/3/92
 /CONTACT: Chuck Day of Industry Week, 216-696-7000, or 216-521-3861, after hours/ CO: Industry Week ST: Ohio IN: PUB SU:


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