Last Friday, I spent part of the day listening to testimony from a number of witnesses about changes to the Americans With Disabilities Act -- the law enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that is supposed to prevent discrimination against the disabled at the workplace. The session was one of four "listening" town-hall meetings across the nation.
One of the speakers was Donald Ellison, an advocate for the disabled, who traveled all the way from Michigan to testify before the panel, which included EEOC acting chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. Ellison, who has cerebral palsy along with all sorts of other medical issues, urged the panel to remember that accommodation for the disabled shouldn't just start inside the office door.
He pointed out that many disabled people can't drive and have to rely on public transportation. Buses can be late, or full, or not equipped with the proper lifts to handle disabled passengers. Schedules may be infrequent and may not completely jibe with company start times. Obviously, employers shouldn't have to experience an "undue hardship," but, he said, they need to explicitly understand that flexibility over start and end times may be an important and necessary accommodation for someone who would otherwise perform excellently on the job.
"Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to employment," Ellison said.