Braille Monitor July 2006
by Dr. John Frank
From the Editor:
Since Monitor readers were invited to assist with this study, it seems
appropriate to report the findings. They are disturbing, if not very surprising.
Here is Dr. Frank's report summary:
In the January 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor I reported the results of my research with twenty blind volunteers who had requested accommodation for access to print as allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the January 2005 issue the Monitor published a request for volunteers for a larger survey project 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 how well the ADA functions as a tool to aid in accomplishing goals. Legal, technical, or philosophical opinions are less important than whether the ADA tool is used and how well it works. The essential questions were: Did you request accommodation? Did you receive anything? Was what you received effective? This was based on the definitions and examples of disability discrimination and readily achievable reasonable accommodations found in the text of the ADA and the EEOC/DOJ guidelines. 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 fewer than three requests each, for a grand total of 311 requests made in all five areas between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2004. Thirty-eight people (25 percent) made no requests in any of the five years. Since a blind person could request more often than this, I thought the length of the survey might discourage answers, but the survey respondents estimated they did not make many requests. They knew they had the right to request, but the ADA tool was just not used very often.
The survey respondents were asked why they made few or no requests. Eighty-three responses (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 2000 to 2004. Sixty-five responses (40 percent) indicated the ADA request process was a conflict or just an ineffectual way to obtain access to fulfill one's goals. Some 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. The ADA tool was not very efficient or user-friendly.
Those who made 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 effectively accommodate was 43 percent, or, conversely, the combined weighted rate of effective accommodation for all five areas was 57 percent. The ADA tool was effective less than 60 percent of the time overall with a range of 33 percent to 60 percent failure rate to accommodate effectively. 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 ADA tool was not very effective.
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 on the survey asked for the requesters' perception 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. It sends the message that providing accommodation is a burden. Of the 82 survey respondents who had ongoing needs and answered the question, 49 (60 percent) had to ask only once or a few times, while 33 (40 percent) had to ask repeatedly or every time they needed obvious 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 willingness of the entity to comply with requests and the difficulty of the process. These perceptions did not simply mirror whether accommodation was received and was effective. The process might seem difficult and the entity seem unwilling even when effective accommodation was provided, or the reverse could occur. 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 leads to effective accommodation, and at times it may be easy to use but leads 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 requesters' 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 ADA appeals process was also examined. 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 may win the right to sue, but not have access to a lawyer. They lose in court by a huge margin. A rate of 314 losses to 14 wins for the year 2001 is typical. It is not a surprise, then, that for this sample appeals were attempted in only 25 percent of 128 situations where effective accommodation was not provided.
Out of 33 appeals, 3 were made to a federal agency and were ineffectual. One was a lawsuit that was not yet settled. Three appeals were made to a state, county, or city human rights agency. Of those, 1 was in progress, and 2 were unsuccessful. The most frequently used avenue of appeal (22) was to contact someone else in the same organization. Of those appeals 7 were successful, 10 were not successful, and 5 were pending. Of the 17 completed appeals of failure to accommodate made to someone in the same organization, 41 percent were successful. The tools for redress of ADA violations were rarely used and rarely effective.
This was not a random sample. Therefore the results do not generalize to all people with a severe visual impairment. The 151 survey respondents were from forty-one 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 had light perception only, 44 percent were legally blind, 6 percent had low vision, and 54 percent had 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 forty-nine, ranging from twenty to sixty-four.
The most troubling findings came from the review of the literature. Rather than accepting that civil rights for people with disabilities is the law of the land, the professional literature either ignores the ADA or debates its merits as though seeking to have the law repealed. The professional, scientific media, not just the public media, seem to be conducting a silence or smear campaign against the ADA. The silence and distortions represent systemic disability discrimination in academia.
Systemic disability discrimination in research on the impact of the ADA is perpetrated by perverse-results studies that report that the ADA harms the people it intended to help. In addition, some professionals redefine the ADA's purpose, concepts, and processes. The ADA is then measured by those false concepts and found lacking. Instead of looking into disability discrimination, which is what the ADA prohibits, some researchers study the ADA as though it were created to solve all problems for all people with all types of disabilities. Others say Congress never intended it would do much of anything. Some researchers act as if the ADA is implemented while others claim research on implementation of the ADA cannot be done or cannot be done by disability type.
In highly relevant areas in the social sciences disability discrimination is ignored or distorted, and the benefits of the ADA are hidden. Vague opinions may get reported, but behaviors and contexts that contribute to or constitute disability discrimination are ignored. The law is used to justify diminishing or dismantling disability support systems on the basis of the false claims that we now have equal access. People with disabilities are being blamed for the discrimination they face and for the ADA's limitations. The ADA and people with disabilities are ignored in relevant areas in research, reports, and professional textbooks. This is a repeat of the way some writers treated race and gender civil rights laws.
The confusion created by the professional literature in the past sixteen years means we have not received pertinent information on disability discrimination and the impact of the ADA. We were told we have the right to request accommodation, but until this study there has been no research on how well requests would be honored. Unless we speak up, disability discrimination will remain hidden, and the next generation of professionals will continue to create or evaluate the environment without us. This research begins to provide insight on the functioning of the ADA as a tool for those who need it, and I hope this type of research on the implementation and impact of the ADA will be continued.
Many thanks to the NFB, the Braille Monitor, and the volunteers who made this research possible. To read the entire report, contact the RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision at P. O. Box 6189, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762, phone (662) 325-2001 or <[email protected]> or <[email protected]> to order a digital copy for $20 of "A Survey of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodation Request Experience of People Who Are Blind or Have a Severe Visual Impairment."