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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

Debunked: 4 Myths About Disabilities and Employment

“It’s not fair to make accommodations for one worker and not for other workers.”

“All those extras add up – why should the firm spend so much on one employee?”

“He has a disability, and even though I am not judging him based on his disabled status, I’m looking at him as any company looks at disabled people. How well can you do the job and what proof do I have that you can do that job?”

“I just think an elected official should be in 100% health when entering office, and have full function and use of all his limbs and senses.”

One of the exciting aspects of Richard Bernstein’s election to the Michigan Supreme Court last week was the discussion of workplace issues for individuals with disabilities.  Most comments were supportive of a diverse Michigan Supreme Court.  But a few comments were similar to those above, all of which are typical concerns when a person with a disability starts a new job.

More than 80% of Americans with disabilities are unemployed.  Most of these people would very much prefer to be employed.  Sometimes the barriers to employment are related to the disability itself, and sometimes the barriers are created by co-workers and employers in the form of myths and false assumptions.  Today I’d like to tackle four of those myths and clarify the facts.

Myth #1: It’s not fair!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against Americans who have disabilities. The ADA requires employers with 15 employees or more to make “reasonable accommodation” to enable a person with a disability to perform at his or her job.  The accommodations level the play field so that a person with a disability can make contributions in the workplace.  In other words, accommodations make the workplace more fair, not less fair!

Myth #2: Employees with disabilities are too expensive.

More than half of all workplace accommodations or adjustments cost nothing to the employer.  These include accommodations such as permitting sitting instead of standing, or standing instead of sitting.  For the accommodations that do require an expenditure, there is typically a one-time cost of about $500 (such as a wheelchair-accessible desk), which quickly pays for itself in the form of increased productivity, decreased insurance and training costs and longer tenure of the employee.

Myth #3: There’s no proof that this person can do the job.

In most cases, the only way to prove this is to go ahead and do the job.  If proof of ability were to be required of every applicant, no one would ever be able to get his or her first job and no one would ever be promoted to higher levels of responsibility.  This myth is a good example of blatant discrimination.

Myth #4: All new employees should be healthy.

Employers are prohibited from asking employees about medical conditions either before or after being hired, but they are allowed to ask if an applicant is capable of performing the job requirements.  Medical screenings are permitted as long as all employees go through the same screening for job-related requirements.  The truth is that many new employees have some type of pre-existing medical condition, such as a thyroid disease, a pregnancy or a history of depression.  The same consideration must be given to employees with disabilities, according to the ADA.  Every applicant deserves to be considered on the basis of past qualifications and present job requirements.

Karen Wang

Written on November 10, 2014 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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