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The Americans with Disabilities Act.

In July 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This milestone legislation, which is intended to end discrimination based upon physical or mental disabilities, presents new challenges to law enforcement administrators. These administrators must now ensure that their agencies comply with the provisions of the new law.

In order to meet this challenge successfully, police executives must first implement training that focuses on the ADA and how this law may affect hiring practices. The legislation explicitly defines what is expected of employers; however, before employers can meet these expectations, they must develop training programs that focus on educating all employees within their agencies. This education process should accomplish two goals: It should educate employees on the specifics of the law, and it should allay their fears that the law may have a negative impact on the agency or its current employees.

Early Training

Agency leaders should begin the education process by targeting selected personnel to receive early training in the particulars of the ADA. The initial training sessions should include those employees who will direct the implementation of the law. This encompasses the agency heads themselves, as well as their administrative staffs.

Administrators should then target for training those involved in the hiring process. In order to ensure that hiring procedures adhere to the new regulations, background investigators, polygraph examiners, and oral interviewers must know what information they should obtain, how they can legitimately obtain this information, and what types of inquiries are inappropriate. Early training of these employees may avoid problems for the agency at a later date.

Broadening the Scope of Training

After key personnel receive training on the specific provisions of the ADA that directly affect their job responsibilities, all other personnel within law enforcement agencies should receive training to broaden their understanding of the law. Taking this critical step may help to minimize many of the misconceptions that occur when agencies lack training of this nature.

For example, any modification of hiring criteria by police agencies, either real or imagined, will likely be greeted with skepticism by some officers and outright hostility by others. Some officers will immediately begin to speculate on how the new legislation may affect them and whether it will lower the standards of the agency--a source of great pride to most officers.

Early intervention by administrators in the form of training can do much toward allaying any unfounded fears that employees may have. Clearly, if employees view the implementation of the ADA as a reduction in hiring standards, concern--and even resentment--can build. This may, in turn, cause the employees' sense of pride, which is built on traditional practices within the department, to be challenged, lowering employees' morale. In addition, new recruits who do not meet the expectations of the existing personnel may never be fully assimilated into the organization.

However, with effective training programs in place, employees learn not only what the ADA is but also what it is not. They will then understand that the employment provisions of the ADA do not reduce or eliminate selection criteria--the law simply attempts to offer equal employment opportunities to qualified individuals with certain disabilities.

Through effective training programs, employees also learn that persons with disabilities must demonstrate that they can perform the essential functions of the position they seek. The essential functions of a job may be determined by a variety of factors, including written job descriptions, collective bargaining agreements, the amount of time spent performing the task, the consequences that may occur if the task is not performed, and the employer's judgment.(1)

Finally, effective training programs underscore the fact that the ADA expressly excludes certain individuals, including current drug users, transvestites, kleptomaniacs, and pyromaniacs, among others. In addition, the law allows certain employers, such as law enforcement agencies, to exclude applicants with a history of illegal drug use if it is established that such an exclusionary standard is job-related and consistent with business necessity.(2)

Providing employees with this critical information reduces employee stress and the opposition that frequently accompanies change. Through education, employees gain both an understanding and an acceptance of the law.


Law enforcement administrators who develop instructional programs that prepare employees for the changes the ADA brings to their agencies create an atmosphere where well-informed employees both understand and support the law. This, in turn, creates an atmosphere that fosters the successful fulfillment of this legislative mandate.


1 Jeffrey Higginbotham, "The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973: An Overview," (unpublished manuscript, 1992).

2 Ibid.

Captain Leonard serves at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy in Hartford, Connecticut.
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Author:Leonard, John A.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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