Laws Related to Hiring Workers With Disabilities, Including Hearing Loss
Laws and regulations pertaining to people with disabilities were developed because society believed this segment of our population was being excluded from the mainstream of opportunity. This review provides introductory information on the primary laws related to employment of persons with disabilities, an estimated 43 million people in the United States.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 503 of this Act requires employers with Federal contracts totaling over $2,500 per year to take affirmative action in the employment and promotion of qualified people with disabilities. If the contract is $50,000 or more or the employer has 50 or more employees, the employer is also required to prepare a written affirmative action program. Section 504 forbids discrimination against qualified people with disabilities by employers receiving Federal financial assistance. And Section 501 requires Federal agencies to have affirmative action plans for the hiring and promoting of qualified people with disabilities. All of these sections require Federal employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to their disabled employees.
The Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974
This Act protects special disabled veterans from being discriminated against because of a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. Section 2012 of the Act requires that employers holding Federal contracts in the amount of $10,000 or more shall take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified special disabled veterans. Depending on the disability, reasonable accommodations might be required.
Almost every state has a statute making it illegal to discriminate against a person in employment and public accommodations on the basis of the person's disability, race, religion, sex, age, or other minority status. Typically, these statutes, sometimes called Human Rights Acts or Civil Rights Acts, protect individuals against unfair practices in hiring, discharge, examinations, training, conditions, and privileges of employment. Most of these state laws are enforced by local and state commissions. The common purpose of these Statutes is to ensure that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities as are people who are not disabled.
Each state statute is different. Therefore, it is important for each employer to review specific laws within a state to ensure that company personnel practices and policies do not preclude persons with disabilities from receiving equal access and opportunity under the law.
The Architectural Barriers Act
Enacted in 1968, this law requires Federally owned, leased, or funded buildings and facilities to be accessible to persons with disabilities. As a result, uniform Federal accessibility standards have been developed for the design, construction, and alteration of buildings. Even though these standards were designed to apply to Federally-supported facilities, many states have either adopted them and have applied them to their own buildings. Other states have developed their own uniform standards of accessibility for physical access within their states. Changes to the physical layout of an existing facility and new construction typically require compliance with accessibility requirements under the Federal or state statutes.
The Tax Reform Act of the Internal Revenue Code
The Federal government has provided an incentive to employers for making facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Section 190 of the Tax Reform Act allows for up to a $35,000 annual tax deduction to offset the cost of making physical access renovations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Called the most sweeping civil rights legislation in more than 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars employment discrimination against qualified people with physical and mental disabilities, that is, impairments that substantially limit one or more of the major activities of life, such as walking or talking. The term also applies to people with a record of such impairment, such as a person who has recovered from cancer, as well as individuals "regarded" as having a disability, such as a person with a disfiguring injury.
The employment provisions of this law prohibit discrimination in hiring or firing disabled persons qualified for a job, inquiring about a disability, limiting advancement opportunities or job classifications, using tests that tend to screen out disabled people, or denying opportunities to anyone in a relationship with a disabled person. Employers must provide "reasonable accommodations" to disabled workers, including: making existing facilities accessible, providing special equipment and training, arranging part-time or modified work schedules, and providing interpreters for deaf persons.
Employees need not provide accommodations that impose an "undue hardship" on business operations. The provisions have already taken effect for employers of 25 or more people, and will take effect on July 26, 1994, for employers of 15 or more people.
In addition, this law requires access to places of public accommodation, mass transportation, and government services. Finally, under the ADA, telephone companies will be required to provide dual party relay systems by July 26, 1993, which will enable deaf people using TDDs to communicate by telephone with any hearing individuals. With a relay system, an operator simultaneously converts all TDD messages into voice for the hearing person, and all voice messages from the hearing person into typed text for the TDD user. In this manner, the deaf employer can have access to telephone service that is functionally equivalent to that available to hearing individuals.
Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988
This Act requires all telephones manufactured or imported into the United States to be compatible with hearing aids. Hearing-aid compatible telephones enable individuals with hearing aids to use the telephone by helping to eliminate feedback and background noise from the hearing aid.
Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988
This law requires the Federal government to operate a dual party relay system for calls to, from, and within the Federal government, enabling deaf employees to easily access Federal government offices in their jobs.
Sources of Additional Information on Laws Related to Persons with Disabilities
In your state, write or call the Human Rights/Relations Commission or Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Telephone numbers for these organization are listed in most major metropolitan telephone directories. The Federal government also provides information on affirmative action programs, reasonable accommodation, and accessibility for disabled persons.
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
Office of Technical Information Services
1331 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036-3894
(202) 272-5434, Ext. 32 (Voice); (202) 272-5449 (TDD)
(800) 872-2253 (Voice/TDD)
Provides information and guidance on technical aspects of architectural, communication, and transportation accessibility in buildings.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Federal Sector Programs 1801 L Street, NW 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20507
(202) 663-4842 (Voice); (202) 663-4053 (TDD)
(800) 669-3362 (Voice), (800) 669-3302 (TDD)
Provides Guidance to Federal agencies on developing and implementing affirmative action programs for hiring, placement, and advancement of individuals with handicaps.
Department of Justice
Coordination and Review Section
Civil Rights Division
320 1st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 307-2222 (Voice); 307-2678 (TDD)
The Department's various Technical Assistance Guides related to individuals with disabilities cover such topics as: telecommunications devices for deaf persons, access to public meetings, assistive listening systems, and interpreter referral systems.
National Council on Disability
800 Independence Avenue, SW, Suite 814
Washington, DC 20591
(202) 267-3846 (Voice); (202) 267-3232 (TDD)
Addresses, analyzes, and makes recommendations on issue of public policy which affect people with disabilities.
President's Commission on Employment of People With Disabilities
1331 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004-1107
(202) 372-6200 (Voice); (202) 372-6205 (TDD); (202) 372-6219 (FAX)
Provides materials and assistance related to the employment of people with disabilities. Also operates the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a computerized information service storing accommodation experiences submitted by employers for employers, job placement personnel, and disabled people. The toll-free numbers for JAN are: 1-800-JAN-PCEH and 1-800-JAN-INWV (in West Virginia).