by Dr. John Frank

Some time ago, "The Braille Forum" published a notice requesting volunteers to participate in a survey to study the impact of the ADA on the employment of people with severe visual impairments funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

The study focused on whether and how well the ADA functions as a tool to aid in accomplishing goals. The essential questions were, "Did you request accommodation?," "Did you receive anything?," and "Was what you received effective?" Request situations in the following five areas were examined: a) job applications and interviews, b) on the job, c) school or training programs, d) government services, and e) private services. Here is a summary of the research results.

Out of 151 volunteers, 113 (75 percent) described an average of less than three requests each, for a grand total of 311 requests made in all five areas between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2004. Thirty-eight people (25 percent) made no requests in any of the five years.

The survey respondents were asked why they made few or no requests. Eighty-three responders (53 percent) indicated there was no need for any or any more employment-related accommodation. Some were not seeking employment and others requested and received effective accommodation prior to 2000 and did not need to make more requests during that time period. Sixty-five people (40 percent) indicated the ADA request process was an ineffectual way to obtain access to fulfill one's goals. Some (23) were concerned about retaliation. Some were denied the right to apply for jobs, transfers, or promotions, thereby being denied the right to request accommodation. The reason most often given for not requesting accommodation was that the request process was too much trouble.

Those who did make requests experienced the following rates of failure to accommodate effectively: a) 38 percent during job applications and interviews, b) 35 percent on the job, c) 33 percent by schools or training programs, d) 60 percent by government services, and e) 52 percent by private services. The combined, weighted average rate for all five areas for the failure to accommodate effectively was 43 percent; conversely, the combined, weighted rate of effective accommodation for all 5 areas was 57 percent. The ADA tool was effective less than 60 percent of the time overall with a range of 33 to 60 percent failure rate. An individual's tolerance for the failure of other tools may vary, but reliance on the ADA is likely diminished due to this low level of reliability.

The accommodations requested fell into three categories. One was equipment, such as a CCTV, a scanner, or a braille display, or computer access software such as a screen reader. The second category was alternate formats or processes, such as a reader or scribe, braille, large print, or digital material, or more time, or a change in location. The third category was help with transportation or orientation and mobility. No requests for equipment were made to government or private services. In each category, requests were fulfilled or not at nearly the same rate. The type of accommodation requested did not seem to affect the success of requests. All the requests appeared to be reasonable and the requesters and the entities were covered by the law.

Several questions asked for the requesters' perceptions of the quality of the ADA request process. Having to repeat the same request for an obvious accommodation from the same entity makes the process tedious and may discourage requests. Of the 82 respondents who had ongoing needs, 49 (60 percent) only had to ask once or a few times, while 33 (40 percent) had to ask repeatedly or every time they needed accommodation such as alternate formats for print material from the same entity. Of 91 respondents who rated the speed of the process, 45 (50 percent) found the process fast or very fast, 43 (47 percent) said it was slow or very slow and 3 (3 percent) did not know. Of 90 respondents who rated their satisfaction with the process, 61 (68 percent) were satisfied or very satisfied, and 29 (32 percent) were unsatisfied or very dissatisfied with the request process.

Two other measures of the ADA request process were the requesters' sense of the entity's willingness to comply with requests and the difficulty of the process. These perceptions did not simply mirror whether an accommodation was received and was effective. In 11 (9 percent) of 122 unfulfilled situations, the process was viewed as easy or very easy. In 39 (22 percent) out of 178 fulfilled situations, the process was considered difficult or very difficult. In 43 (35 percent) out of 124 unfulfilled request situations, the entity was perceived to be willing or very willing to accommodate. In 10 (6 percent) of 178 fulfilled situations, the entity was perceived to be unwilling or very unwilling to accommodate. At times, the ADA tool will be difficult to use, but lead to effective accommodation; at other times it may be easy to use, but lead nowhere. Also, at times the entity required to accommodate may seem unwilling to comply, but will do so anyway, or the entity may seem willing, but that will lead nowhere. These findings suggest that perceptions, opinions, or attitudes have less value for describing or predicting ADA request success than do current behaviors.

Another measure of ADA requests was the requester's knowledge of the entity's accommodation history. In 31 (24 percent) of 128 unfulfilled request situations, requesters thought the entity did not usually accommodate. In 50 (39 percent) of the unfulfilled situations, requesters thought the entity usually did. In 47 (37 percent) unfulfilled situations, the requesters did not know the entity's history. In 10 (5 percent) of 183 fulfilled situations, requesters thought the entity did not usually accommodate. In 140 (77 percent) fulfilled situations, the requesters thought the entity usually did accommodate and in 33 (18 percent) fulfilled situations, requesters did not know the entity's history. Requests to entities that are known to accommodate are more often fruitful, but knowing the entity's accommodation history will not always reveal or predict its current behaviors.

The survey also examined the ADA appeals process. People with severe impairments rarely benefit from any redress process. Only 5 percent win an EEOC complaint and most do not get anything even if they win. They win the right to sue, but do not have access to a lawyer. They lose in court by a huge margin. A rate of 314 losses to 14 wins (rate in 2001) is typical. It is not a surprise, then, that for this sample, appeals were only attempted in 25 percent of 128 situations where effective accommodation was not provided.

Out of 33 appeals, three were made to a federal agency and were ineffectual. One was a law suit that has not yet been settled. Three appeals were made to a state, county, or city human rights agency. Of those, one was in progress, and two were unsuccessful. The most frequently used avenue of appeal (22) was to contact someone else in the same organization. Of those appeals, seven were successful,10 were not, and five were pending. Of the 17 completed appeals, 41 percent were successful. The tools for redress of ADA violations were rarely used and were not often effective.

This was not a random sample. Therefore, the results do not generalize to all people with severe visual impairments. The 151 survey respondents were from 41 states; 66 percent lived in a city, and the rest were about evenly divided between rural and suburban areas. About 50 percent were totally blind or only had light perception, 44 percent were legally blind, 6 percent had low vision, and 54 percent have had a visual impairment since birth. Also, 58 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher, 54 percent were female, 87 percent were white, and 50 percent were employed. The average age was 49, ranging from 20 to 64.

Many thanks to ACB, "The Braille Forum" and the volunteers who made this research possible. For a digital copy of the report, titled "Survey of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodation Request Experience of People Who Are Blind Or Have A Severe Visual Impairment," send $20 to the RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision, P.O. Box 6189, Mississippi State, MS 39762, phone 1-800-675-7782, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].

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