The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities by eliminating barriers to their participation in many aspects of working and living in America. In particular, Title I of the ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full range of employment-related activities, from recruitment to advancement to pay and benefits.

Assistive Technology (AT) in the Workplace

Technology helps us complete tasks faster, easier and with less stress. Assistive technology allows people with disabilities perform tasks with the same results that other employees are capable of.

Assistive technology is any device, aid or technology that assists a person in being more independent. Many of us are already familiar with assistive technology and may even use it on a daily basis. There are many categories of assistive technology devices and equipment that can assist people in the workplace. Depending on the work being done, there are items for computer access, vision, hearing, environmental adaptations, mobility, speech and more. With smartphones, tablets and computers becoming more prevalent in places of work, there are applications on these devices that can be used not only for work tasks but also for learning social skills needed to be a part of the work community. These include prompting apps, behavioral management apps, transportation apps, vision apps, hearing apps, speech apps and many more.

Obtaining AT for the Workplace

If your company has more than 15 employees, your employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations, such as AT devices for people with disabilities, unless such accommodations would pose an undue hardship on the company. However, it is your responsibility to ask for the accommodation; the company does not have to provide the accommodation unless they are told of the need. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, an accommodation request does not have to be in writing. However, the EEOC does suggest written documentation for the request in the event of a dispute concerning whether or when the request was made. The ADA does not give specific guidelines or forms for requesting a reasonable accommodation, though some employers have their own in-house forms that can be used.

Benefits and working with SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits are also payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial requirements. People who have worked long enough may also be able to receive Social Security disability income or retirement benefits as well as SSI.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program that pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are insured or have worked until a certain age and have paid Social Security taxes. Special rules and guidelines make it possible for those receiving benefits to work and still receive monthly payments through SSI and SSDI. SSI payments are based on how much other income you generate. When your other income rises, your SSI payments usually decline. If you earn more than the income threshold for SSI, your payments will stop for those months. However, your payments will continue if your income falls below that threshold.

Social Security Ticket To Work

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for Social Security disability beneficiaries age 18 through 64 who want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. The Ticket program helps people with disabilities progress toward financial independence. Ticket to Work connects you with free employment services to help you decide if working is right for you, prepare for work, find a job, or maintain success while you are working.

Social Security Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

PASS is a provision to help individuals with disabilities return to work. PASS lets a disabled individual set aside money and items he or she owns to pay for items or services needed to achieve a specific work goal. The objective of the PASS is to help disabled individuals find employment that reduces or eliminates SSI or SSDI benefits.

Benefits and Working with Medicaid

You can earn income by working and receive Medicaid coverage as long as your income is within the level set by the state. If you receive Medicaid coverage, but your income eliminates your SSI benefits, your Medicaid coverage will still continue until your income reaches a certain level. If your health care costs are higher than this level, however, you can have more income and keep your Medicaid if certain requirements are met.

Working with a Veterans Disability Rating

Veterans with “schedule of rating” disability percentages may legally have “substantial gainful employment” even if they are rated as 100 percent disabled unless they receive Total Disability/Individual Unemployability compensation. Receiving the Individual Unemployability benefit, which designates you as 100 percent “unemployable,” means you cannot work a job deemed “substantial gainful employment” that elevates your income above the official Census Bureau’s definition of the poverty line. A veteran can receive both VA service-connected disability benefits and Social Security benefits. However, it is important to note that receipt of one does not guarantee receipt of the other. A veteran generally cannot receive both a VA pension and Social Security at the same time.

Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE)

What is Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE), and why is it important? CIE is work performed by a person with an impairment or health-related disability within an integrated setting. Integrated employment is referred to as working with colleagues who do not have disabilities in a typical workplace environment. This includes earning wages that are consistent with other coworkers that do not have disabilities while performing the same or similar tasks. Employees with disabilities must be given the same opportunities to interact with other employees, customers and vendors as those without disabilities.

Benefits of Competitive Integrative Employment

Dignity and economic self-sufficiency within the community are major benefits of CIE. CIE is like vocational rehabilitation in that it helps those with developmental, psychological, physical, and other impairments or health-related disabilities obtain, maintain, or return to employment within their community. With the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), services for people with disabilities were improved to help find and obtain CIE. CIE positions provide customized employment and workplace support needed to meet the specific abilities of the person with disabilities and the needs of the employer.

Workplace Support and Customized Employment

Many businesses have workplace support and customization as parts of their common plan. These may include modifications to an employee’s work environment, adjustments to policies or practices that support employees, and changes to job functions that help the employee successfully perform them. Supports and customization can be physical structures, surroundings, or objects present in the business. Changing the way that certain procedures are performed can be an easy way to support the worker. Having a mentor who can help an employee learn a new job, develop social networking, and provide general training are supports that can and should be taken advantage of.

Finding Employment Support

To find local help, explore careers, find training, and search for jobs, contact the U.S. Dept. of Labor, or visit http://www.careeronestop.org/.

Education, Training and Rehabilitation
Education

Transitioning to work can be difficult and learning the proper skills is crucial to success in the workplace. Some of the skills needed are: decision making, effective communication, financial management, and coping strategies. Many organizations are ready to assist by teaching these essential skills. American Job Centers (AJCs) provide assistance on the various skills needed through training programs. AJCs were established under the Workforce Investment Act and are coordinated by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. Community Colleges may offer classes and even work skills programs for individuals with disabilities who are entering the workforce. You will need to contact your local community college for availability. Centers for Independent Living (CIL) are local community-based nonprofit agencies that may also provide education and skills classes.

Rehabilitation

Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) assists persons with disabilities in their desire to obtain or maintain employment and/or achieve independence in their communities by providing rehabilitation services and working cooperatively with business and other community resources. LRS Vocational Rehabilitation Services provides comprehensive rehabilitation services that go far beyond those found in routine job training programs. This frequently includes work evaluation and job readiness services, assessment for the provision of assistive technology, such as customized computer interfaces for persons with physical or sensory disabilities, job counseling services, and medical and therapeutic services.

Training

The Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) provides funds and administers grant programs that offer training and employment assistance to people with disabilities. Information on ETA’s disability-related grant programs can be found at disAbility Online. ETA is also responsible for enforcing parts of the Ticket to Work and the Self-Sufficiency Program, which aim to provide greater access for people with disabilities to training services, vocational rehabilitation services, and other support services they need to obtain, regain or maintain employment. Disability-related grant programs are also provided by the Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need. Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. Support services may include job coaching, job counseling, training, benefits counseling and job placement. The Ticket to Work has many work incentives and service providers to help with your employment search. These include Employment Networks (EN), Workforce Employment Networks (WF), State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies, Work Incentives Planning & Assistance (WIPA), and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS). Goodwill Industries has programs to help individuals with disabilities that are seeking a job. Goodwill has programs for training, education, and rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. They also can help you prepare for an interview and update your resume. They offer career coaches, placement and support services. Also, abilityjobs.com is a career website dedicated to employment of people with disabilities.

Fairness in the Workplace
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities by eliminating barriers to their participation in many aspects of working and living in America. In particular, Title I of the ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full range of employment-related activities, from recruitment to advancement to pay and benefits.

An individual with a disability is defined as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically require employers to provide medical or disability-related leave. However, it does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities if necessary to perform essential job functions or to benefit from the same opportunities and rights afforded to employees without disabilities. Accommodations can include modifications to work schedules, such as leave. There is no set leave period mandated because accommodations depend on individual circumstances and should generally be granted unless doing so would result in “undue hardship” to the employer.

Disability Discrimination and Disability Harassment

Disability discrimination means treating someone differently in employment because of their disability, perceived disability, or association with an individual with a disability. Disability discrimination can occur in many ways; it can be direct and obvious, or not so direct and not so obvious. If you are a person with a disability and are qualified for a job, there are federal and state laws protecting you from job discrimination, harassment and retaliation on the basis of your disability. If you are a family member, friend or business associate and have been discriminated against because of your association with an individual with a disability, you are protected under the law as well.

When applying for a job the employer cannot ask if you are disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. However, they can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. The employer can ask you to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodations, you will be able to perform the duties of the job. You are not required by an employer to take a medical examination before you are offered a job. However, after you have been offered a job, the employer may require a medical examination, but only if all entering employees have to take the examination and the exam is job-related and consistent with the employer’s business needs. You cannot be made to take an exam solely because you have, or your employer thinks you have, a disability. If you are able to perform all of the “essential functions” of a job, except those functions that your disability prevents you from performing, the ADA and many state laws require your employer to provide you with a reasonable accommodation, which is any change in the workplace or the way things are customarily done that provides an equal employment opportunity to an individual with a disability. An employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it is requested, but the request does not have to be in writing. However, your employer is then allowed to ask for something in writing to document the request. Accommodations can also be requested to apply for an application.

The ADA requires that an employer provide employees with disabilities equal access to whatever health insurance coverage is offered to other employees. The employer cannot deny you coverage that is made available to other employees or impose additional costs or restrictions on the person with disabilities because of disability.

Work-related injuries must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if a worker is protected by the ADA. Only injured workers who meet the ADA’s definition of an “individual with a disability” will be considered disabled under the law regardless of whether they satisfy criteria for receiving benefits under workers’ compensation or other disability laws. An employee also must continue to be “qualified” (with or without reasonable accommodation) to be protected by the ADA. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency of the federal government responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to disability discrimination in workplaces of 15 or more employees. Most states have their own agencies that enforce state laws against discrimination. The Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, age, sickle cell trait, pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

Bullying

The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are federal laws that provide assistance to people with disabilities who are bullied at work. The Civil Rights Acts says it is illegal to harass a job applicant or worker, because he or she has or had a disability or is thought to have a disability even when one does not exist. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or results in a change in work status (such as being fired or demoted). The harasser (i.e., the bully) can be a supervisor, co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer. A complaint of harassment can result in legal (anti-discrimination) proceedings if the person who is the bully is not also disabled or in another protected class. The ADA and, by reference, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, states the following: It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of…any right granted or protected by this chapter (ADA §12203(b). Rights under the ADA include the right to benefit from the full range of employment opportunities, without discrimination, in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges. The right to not be questioned excessively about disabilities before a job is offered. The right to receive reasonable accommodations for physical and/or mental limitations. Interfering or obstructing a person’s exercise or enjoyment of these rights is illegal. If a person is found guilty of discrimination because of bullying or harassment, he or she must pay money to the victim (A) to compensate for harassment and (B) as punishment for intentional violations of either Title VII of the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Filing a Claim of Discrimination

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (LCHR), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency. Filing with the LCHR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. If you do not have an attorney, however, you may wish to see whether the LCHR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. LCHR complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

Self-advocating

For most people with disabilities, there is usually a family member, therapist, support group, health care and others that are always looking out for their best interest. When a person starts employment, the people they would normally depend on to advocate for them will not be there for support during the workday. Self-advocacy involves being able to assess situations while on the job, speaking for one’s self, knowing one’s rights and responsibilities, knowing who to reach out for support, and being able to solve problems.

Some questions to consider while on the job are: Do I feel safe doing this task? Am I being treated like everyone else? Do I feel like I’m being taken advantage of? Am I being bullied by co-workers, employers or the public?

These events and situations that can come up while working can be hard to deal with, and it is important to be prepared to face these issues. A good support team at home can help prepare individuals that are working by guiding them through potential situations. Role-playing interactions with employers, co-workers and the public and walking through proper steps if the individual feels threatened, bullied or taken advantage of can help tremendously in building confidence and skills that promote self-advocacy.

LATAN is a 501(c)(3) statewide nonprofit organization with the mission to help people of all ages with functional limitations or disabilities to gain greater independence at work, home, or school through the use of Assistive Technology(AT).

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