The ADA, Obamacare, Health Insurance, and Job Killing

You know what the biggest threat to America is right now? The one thing that could push us into massive unemployment?

Apparently it’s healthy people.

20 years ago, it was disabled people. If you made every business build (with a corporate welfare subsidy in the form of tax breaks and tax credits) ramps and such for “those people”, then suddenly you’re going to close down every business. Yep, that happened.

Okay, no it didn’t. Now it’s a lot more common (but not common enough) to see disabled people work.

The next step for disabled people is universal coverage. Obamacare ain’t that. But it’s closer than we’ll be without it. A huge reason a lot of disabled people stay away from work is that they have complex health care needs – and most first jobs don’t provide insurance. I know there are all sorts of programs that, if you do them perfectly, will solve this, but at the end of the day people want assurance that their medical needs can be taken care of. Life is valued more than work. Go figure.

Of course most of the people who want to see Obamacare go down in flames aren’t dealing with that. They’re worried about “rationing” (in otherwords, if we treat the medical needs of everyone, then the better-off among us won’t get medical care, supposedly – of course there is no evidence that’s true, and usually the people talking rationing aren’t looking at whether or not everyone is getting care today; hint: we ration today, just on the basis of money). And they are worried about the possibility they might have to buy one birth control pill (because we apparently want abortion instead of pregnancy prevention so we can rant that we’re pro-life and any woman who has had sex but doesn’t want a kid is a slut who deserves punishment). And we’re worried about non-existant death panels.

Then they’re worried about job loss. People are going to have to lay off workers, they say.

Let me tell you something about most businesses: they don’t keep extra workers around for the hell of it. Most don’t run or operate as charities. They have exactly the number of workers they need to fill the demand for the product (or less). But they don’t have more. If they do, you know what they do? They do lay offs. Even successful businesses don’t provide guaranteed employment for life, if a position is no longer needed. And if that person is making the business more money than the business would make without them, they stay employed. After all, if you don’t have extra employees, getting rid of an employee means two things: overtime (which is typically even more expensive then the employee you got rid of) or not selling as much stuff as you would otherwise sell. And most businesses like selling stuff.

When a business owner talks about how his business is “already struggling” and that Obamacare will force layoffs by pushing him over the edge, ask why he hasn’t addressed the struggling business. Ask if he’s rehiring for positions after people leave. If he is, he doesn’t have more employees than he thinks he needs (you wouldn’t pay out money you don’t have to if you are struggling). But if he has plenty of employees to lay off on day one of an employer mandate, he’s badly managing a business and putting everyone’s jobs on the line with his poor management. This is particularly true if he’s not actively trying to shrink his current workforce – which can be seen by figuring out if he’s hiring new employees to replace ones that left.

If he is making money, then this is whining about not being able to pay as much of a less than livable wage anymore – he’s going to have to get closer to the point where his employees can afford to live.

But the simple fact is that employers don’t have extra employees. Maybe after Obamacare’s employer mandate goes into effect, we’ll see some employers lay people off. But I’ll give you a hint: that would have happened anyway, as they were not needed in the eyes of the leadership. It’s bad resource planning, by leadership – they purchased more manpower than they could afford or need. And Obamacare gives them a convenient excuse to use rather than just plain greed. Don’t let a bad manager get away with blaming Obama rather than taking responsibility.

Gaps in the ADA

Courtesy of the Durango Herald, we know about the plight of a disabled visitor to Durango, Colorado (USA). It highlights one of many gaps in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and shows how different lobbyists ensured loopholes existed in the ADA.

(note that the ADA is a USA law, so what I say here doesn’t apply to other countries)

In the story, you hear that taxi services aren’t required to be accessible (and some pretty disgusting comments from the owner of Durango Transportation, who notes “special needs require special services” after, in the article, explaining that a person using a wheelchair would pay $72 from his company to get to to town from the airport (an able-bodied person would pay $25). It should be noted that an advocate in the town said there was a different side to this and that local transportation companies were unwilling to provide any assistance. Another transportation company, Animas Transportation after mentioning an $85,000 cost for a van with a lift, said, “The additional costs of the liability insurance will make ‘your eyes water’.” which is yet another stereotype of the disabled that typically isn’t based in fact: that we’re a liability and safety risk (perception of higher liability insurance cost is also not a valid reason for discrimination under the ADA – that’s been fought in court).

I’ll note that the ADA prohibits the surcharge as described above, and it certainly does apply to Taxi companies. And while taxi companies are not required to purchase accessible automobiles (sedans), all other new vehicles purchased must be accessible (this link also talks about surcharges being prohibited). Big surprise, though: a business (or two!) that doesn’t think the ADA applies to them. It’s also interesting that transportation businesses aren’t expected to make their transportation accessible in many cases (buy used vehicles or stick to just buying sedans), but another business who isn’t a transportation company, such as a hotel, is required to be fully accessible if they provide a shuttle service. I have a hard time believing that a hotel faces less of a financial hardship to equip their shuttle van with appropriate lifts (or providing equivalent service) but a taxi company is unable to do the same – particularly since these same taxi companies may be contracted by private businesses to operate shuttle services (so you would think it would make good financial sense, if you want private contracts, to have at least one accessible vehicle!).

As an aside, kudos should go to Doubletree Hotels for having an accessible shuttle (as required by the ADA for a hotel shuttle – unlike taxis, hotels don’t get any exceptions for accessibility in their shuttle service) – apparently the only one in Durango. Unfortunately the man wasn’t going to the Doubletree. But it’s nice to see Doubletree is willing to sell their product to both non-disabled and disabled people, and comply with the law, since sadly many businesses are not. It should also be noted that the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway managed to make their historical steam-driven train and facilities accessible, something that taxi services can’t manage to do.

Just what isn’t covered by the ADA, as far as public access? It turns out a lot. But we start with the two main categories of exceptions from Title III:

  • Private Clubs (basically anyone who can also exclude someone on the basis of race)
  • Religious Organizations

For physical accessibility, however, there are additional exceptions (this is in addition to the numerous exceptions in the design standards that say things like a toll road can build completely physically inaccessible tollbooths and then, because now a wheelchair user can’t access them, not hire people who use a wheelchair even if the user could otherwise do the job well):

  • Taxi service automobiles (sedans, not vans)
  • Houses (builders can build a 5,000 house subdivision without making even one house in the subdivision accessible, unless they have a sales office in a model home, in which case that one home must be at least partially physically accessible)
  • Air and rail transportation (these are covered by other laws)
  • Anything a State historical society decides couldn’t be modified
  • Apartment buildings in most cases
  • Homeowners associations in most cases
  • Most multi-story office buildings with less than 3,000 square feet per floor (physical access to space is not required)

I’ll also note there are many other exceptions, such as movie theater captioning (they don’t have to do that).

The ADA is a good law (and does apply to the Durango taxi services!), but it’s still has gaps that we need to continue to work to close. We aren’t done yet.

Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Inclusion!

Autistic folk have been sold a fake bill of goods on inclusion.  Don’t keep letting yourselves be fooled.  We haven’t generally seen real inclusion, but it’s about time we do.  And, yes, we can and should demand it.

First, let me talk about what we’ve been sold:

  • Having an autistic on the board of an autism organization is not inclusions.  “Inclusion” is not “you are one of many stakeholders in how society treats and supports people like you.”  No, we are the stakeholders.  Yes, other people are affected by decisions, policies, and treatment of autistic people.  But it’s supposed to be about autistic people, and autistic people are not “one of many” voices on autism.  Inclusion in advocacy leadership involves more than having one voice among many that can shout you down.
  • Inclusion isn’t obvious by counting accommodations, aides, etc.  Inclusion isn’t interaction signal badges, quiet spaces, social contact rules, or similar environmental and social changes.  These things may be part of what makes an environment inclusive, certainly – and in some cases it may be impossible for an environment to be inclusive without them.  But they, themselves, aren’t inclusion.  Nor is there a guarantee that they’ll only be used in an inclusive environment.
  • Inclusion isn’t autism focused.  You do me no good if you build an environment where my autistic traits are valued and accepted, but then turn around and exclude me on the basis of my race, religion, age, sex, gender, orientation, etc.
  • Inclusion isn’t special privileges.  Most of us aren’t seeking that (of course even in the autistic community there are people who seek to take advantage of others).  Rather we’re seeing being able to be.  We’re seeking the ability to participate fully and to enrich your activities and circles.
  • Inclusion isn’t autistic-run.  We’re all different, so just having an autistic run something doesn’t mean that this autistic is inclusive, understands my needs, or is willing to listen when my needs differ from expectations.  Nor is my autism the only area where I might seek inclusion!
  • Inclusion isn’t ADA compliance (or compliance any other checklist, rule, or law).  Compliance is rarely enough to do anything except keep someone out of legal trouble.  Inclusion seeks to actively include people, not just avoid breaking the law or just do what the law requires.  Compliance can (and should) be mandated by government, and should be.  But people will find ways to be non-inclusive no matter how many laws are passed.
  • Inclusion isn’t black and white.  There are times when inclusion requires faith in another person or judgement calls.  There are times when people will take advantage of willingness to actively include, and there are times when people will get inclusion wrong and end up excluding someone.  But it’s not about holding everyone to the same black-and-white rules (that creates exclusion).
  • Inclusion isn’t a written policy.  It’s not about whether your organization says they’ll be decent people.  Being decent people is what you should be doing, period.  With or without a policy.  Policy doesn’t make decent people.  Ethics, integrity, courage, and empathy make a decent person.

Too often, I’ll read a story about, for example, an emotional support animal being denied access on the basis of the dog not meeting the strict definition of a service animal in the ADA or similar law.  Yet, this dog may be the lifeline for someone to keep and maintain an emotional footing outside of their home.  Without the dog, they stay away.  Whether you comply with the ADA or not, prohibiting this person, in this situation, from taking their animal is exclusion.  Period.

Sure, you don’t have to be a decent human being.  So you can exclude them.

But just because you don’t have to be a decent human being doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be one.  Seriously.

Or I’ll read a story about an employee fired from a company that claims to support disabled people.  Maybe that employee was late to work too often.  Of course the employee isn’t typically being paid enough to have good access to reliable transportation, particularly if they don’t drive.  So they are stuck at the mercy of the standard, crappy public transit system…or worse – paratransit!  So they are going to be late.  Inclusion would find ways to work with that employee, and not just blindly apply the same consequences for the same objective facts (“late for work too many times”), but will consider the circumstances (“late for work because public transit absolutely stinks and society doesn’t believe disabled people deserve enough money to actually have reliable transportation” versus “late for work because he spent all night getting plastered and didn’t want to wake up that morning, and thought he could get away with being late one more time.”).

Inclusion involves judgement calls and a willingness to step outside the world of black and white certainty.  Sometimes it involves risks.  But, most importantly, because it does involve judgement calls, it also involves taking responsibility, admitting mistakes, and doing our best to rectify any wrongs we create.  It doesn’t need perfection.  But it does need to acknowledge when and where we screw up.  And to do something about it.  I get sick of reading about “unfortunate incidents” where nothing concrete is done in response.

Inclusion involves not only the easy-to-notice stuff that a company or organization can list in a brochure or website, like wheelchair ramps, braille signage, name tags, or other obvious things, but also involves a lot of things that you’ll never get to take credit for – or which people might even like you doing.  Sometimes it involves that restaurant not immediately kicking out the family of the disruptive child, even though that obviously makes other diners unhappy.  Maybe it involves giving the family a chance to get through a time of pain and stress – or maybe it involves reducing the stress that created the problem in the first place.  Inclusion doesn’t involve putting your decisions up to popular vote.  Sometimes inclusion is unpopular.

Inclusion involves finding ways to include, even when you didn’t create the exclusion.  For instance, when seeing a person being bullied or insulted, inclusion involves stepping up and saying telling the bully their behavior isn’t cool.  Even if you aren’t in charge, even if you aren’t the bully or the victim.  Inclusion is not passively sitting there wishing someone would do something.  It’s active and risky (although probably far less risky than your emotions would indicate).

Inclusion is about flexibility.  No matter how wonderful your organization is (or you yourself are), at some point someone is going to need something that goes beyond  what you expected.  Inclusion isn’t referring that person to a group that spends weeks deciding if it’s proper to include someone.  It involves giving front-line people the chance to respond positively, even when there’s no formal policy or procedure.  It shouldn’t take committees and boards to decide if a person should be included!  It almost never should take a dedicated inclusion or disability office.

Inclusion is about making people feel welcome and wanted.  That means you have to actually be welcoming and you have to actually want people there.  You can’t fake this.  That desire has to be there to avoid the passive-agressive hiding behind rules, policy, and tradition that plagues so many organizations that would appear accepting on the surface.

Inclusion is being careful to respond to complaints and concerns in a way that doesn’t perpetrate power imbalances and victimization.  For instance, a person who tells you about sexual harassment shouldn’t be counseled on how to respond to sexual harassment as often happens.  Or a black person that reports racism shouldn’t be told, “Some people are like that, you need to understand that we don’t have control over everyone.”  Or an autistic who has an “outburst” after being provoked by a socially skilled bully shouldn’t be thrown out of a place for disruptive behavior.  Or someone who says their religion was insulted shouldn’t be told, “I’m sure that’s not what so-and-so meant, you must have misunderstood.”  Victim-blaming behavior is common, probably because it’s easier than dealing with the messy world of people.  Sure, not all accusations are true.  But there are ways of responding to allegations without immediately blaming the victim or subjecting the victim to further victimization.  It involves judgement calls and social sensitivity (something even autistics can have).  And it is hard and messy, and may leave you with a sleepless night while you work through things.

Inclusion is about listening.  To the people affected.  I can guess that autistic people don’t like loud noise, for instance.  But it’s probably better to actually find out from the autistic person what makes sense – not just blindly implement quiet policies.  I personally find environments that listen to me and have no purposeful accommodations to be way more accepting than most environments where people spend their careers trying to figure out how to build an autism-friendly environment.  It’s fine to spend your career trying to make part of the world autism-friendly.  But there is no one-size-fits-all.  That’s where listening comes in.  Maybe I don’t need your accommodation.  Maybe I do, but I’d rather do it myself than use what you provide.  Maybe your accommodation will actually exclude me, but you don’t realize it.  Listen.

So, I don’t want to hear about something you bought to be inclusive, nor something you made, nor even something you changed (although you probably have done all of these things if you’re truly being inclusive).  I don’t want to see a token minority person.  I want to hear that you understand people are messy, confusing, and seemingly contradictory.  I want to hear that while you’ve done various things to make something welcoming, you’re willing to listen if someone has concerns.  And I want to hear that you’ll get involved – even when it’s not directly your problem – in fixing instances of exclusion.

Typical. Just so typical.

I saw this newspaper article, talking about the Denver-area mass transit board of directors, entitled Disabilities Sideline RTD Members During Team Building Go-Cart Race, and have wanted to blog about it for a few days.

First, the title is a bit inaccurate.  It wasn’t disabilities that sidelined the members, but rather the attitudes and behaviors of the president of the board.

A short summary: to develop “cohesion” and teamwork on the board, a non-inclusive teambuilding activity was chosen by the board president, that left two members unable to fully participate.

A local trouble-maker (I.E. someone critical of RTD) posted this Youtube video:

RTD, or the Regional Transportation District, is the Denver mass-transit organization that manages, among other things, paratransit.  This agency has had a s storied past, with advocates using inaccessible RTD busses to pave the way for the wheelchair lifts you will see in almost all transit buses in the US today.  Of course it took lawsuits, blocking busses with bodies and wheelchairs, and generally mass disruption to make RTD put the lifts on their busses.  Every year or two since, there’s been a court case against RTD regarding inaccessible busses, broken lifts, disrespectful drivers, busses passing by disabled riders without picking them up, and even drivers lying about the working state of the lifts.  And every year or two these get settled, typically out-of-court, with promises by RTD that they will do better next time.  Except they don’t.

So, you would think that a 15 member board of directores that includes disabled members would know about the recent litigation against RTD.  Or how they cut off 120 disabled riders because they were “providing service above and beyond requirements” (link includes video) and we just couldn’t have that.  Or perhaps they would know about the disaster when RTD tried showing off their shiny new rail cars to the disabled community (in fairness, they promised – again just a promise at this point until we see how the service works – to fix those problems).  I’m not saying that RTD is bad or good here – just that board members obviously must be aware that disabled people actually exist, since at the very least these pesky disabled people have caused RTD to expend some effort.

Apparently, however, the board president is unaware of that.  Or unaware that accommodations matter.  Even for a “team building” activity (why on earth would you want to include everyone on a team building activity?).   If a disabled board member isn’t accommodated, what chance does a disabled citizen have when it comes to their transit services?

I could talk about the level of service RTD provides, as they continue to cut bus routes (and as you cut bus routes, you also cut off people who can’t use that route – RTD isn’t required to provide services to disabled riders more than a certain distance from a regular bus stop, nor required to provide that service outside of the regular bus stop’s schedule).  I could talk about the complete fiscal disaster of FastTracks (so, really RTD – you actually built a cost model that assumed tax revenue would increase over more than a decade, but building supplies and services would not change cost at all?  WTF?).  But I’m not going to.

I’m just going to say: rather than focusing on teamwork, why don’t you figure out how to involve all of the board members in the process of running RTD.  However, I imagine we’ll get little more than another promise that you’ll do better.