Editorial: Give disabled workers a chance

Lisa Yates, Editor

Part of my job is printing letters and taking calls from people complaining about various issues. The majority of complaints I’ve heard so far center around one issue – disability discrimination.

The disabled residents of Ascension Parish deserve a chance. It’s time to call upon the businesses and organizations throughout the parish to renew their focus on improving employment opportunities that lead to good jobs and sound economic futures for people with disabilities.

Employment, self-reliance and economic dependence are essential to the self-esteem and self-respect of all people, including those with disabilities.

I took a call from a woman today who told me her story. She said ever since she was a little girl, she’s been hard of hearing. She compensated for it by lip reading.

For the most part, it never slowed her down. As an adult, she excelled in sales and described herself as a “super salesperson.” She said she enjoyed working with clients and her disability never interfered with her work.

She landed a job with a good, locally-owned company and was sent to a training class. Following the class she would be tested on the material. If she didn’t pass, she would be fired.

The problem was during instruction the instructor kept his back turned to the class a good deal of the time so she missed part of the material presented.

She raised her hand to let the instructor know of her disability. She simply asked him to face her when he was talking so she could receive instruction. It seemed like a fair request.

She said the instructor was rude and ignored her, but she asked him again. He got agitated and fired her on the spot. She said she was embarrassed and humiliated to be treated like that in front of the class.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the woman ended up losing her house because she was depending on that job.

She had gone to the human resources department of the company but was told there was nothing that could be done. Worse than that, they advised her against filing a complaint saying no other company would ever hire her again.

The woman was afraid to tell me her name, but she wanted to tell me her story. She believed if people knew this was happening, something could be done.

I hope she’s right.

It seems that too many disabled people are handicapped not by disabilities of nature or accident, but by people at the workplace who are reluctant to let them work because of ignorance about what disabled people can do.

Indeed, ignorance is the major barrier.

I understand the prejudice to a certain degree. Employers get worn out by employees who are a constant drain on resources – those who are always out sick, always late, always at doctor’s appointments.

Even though employers are not supposed to discriminate against sick, hurt or disabled workers, it’s human nature for the boss to get tired of dealing with a chronically ill employee.

But the fact is that anyone can get in an accident or develop a serious illness or disease like cancer – even bosses. That’s why we have Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training and other terms and conditions of employment.

But in addition to the law, we need a new attitude – an attitude that can pay rich dividends to the community as well as save taxpayers a lot of money.

More than two-thirds of all disabled adults of working age are not working.

Our tax dollars pay to support the discrimination. Billions of dollars in federal, state, parish, city and private money are spent on disability-related expenditures each year – medical care, workman’s compensation and rehabilitation services.

We spend 10 times as much on keeping disabled people dependent tax users for every dollar we spend on helping them get back into the work force and becoming self-supporting taxpayers.

That’s just wrong.

Lisa Yates is the editor of Gonzales Weekly Citizen. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa_editor.