[nfbwatlk] More reflections on "reasonable accommodation"

Lauren Merryfield lauren at catlines.com
Sun Nov 16 23:19:11 UTC 2014

Without googling, I don't know what "amanuensis" and "finitude" are. They might be jargon for something simpler that I might understand. And I am part of the general public though blind. 

What I know from years of job-hunting and several jobs that I landed, most employers simply do not really want to accommodate us. They want us to be sighted, period. The ADA that has been there to open doors closes some. Some employers find legal loopholes that we ordinary blind citizens don't even know about. 

Though I've had several telephone/computer-type jobs, I never did get the social worker job that I worked hard to attain the Master's in Social Work for. Their excuse was my poor eye contact. I consider that to be a petty, and unimportant excuse for not hiring me. The other issue was that I could not read physicians' hand-written notes and their hiring a reader would cause a breach of confidence, and, later Hipaa issues. I think those could have been worked around if someone had honestly and truly wanted to hire me. 

In the telephone/computer jobs I've had, and currently am doing, I don't have eye contact with my callers but we communicate just fine. My callers have no idea I am blind. When there are hand-written notes popping up somewhere, I have a supervisor read them or, most often, we communicate notes, memos, etc, by email. We did not have all of this technology back in the late 1980s when I received my MSW degree, however, I believed then, and still do, that intelligent sighted people could have thought outside the box with me if they hadn't been so fear-ridden about someone doing things differently. 

I had to fight pretty hard to get almost every job I've gotten. I am not convinced that the ADA has done nearly as much as it could have done, especially for totally blind people. 
  blessings in the name of Jesus Christ 
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not into thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs #3#5-6
My book is now available in audiobook format:
Visit my new website at 

-----Original Message-----
From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Elizabeth Rene via nfbwatlk
Sent: Sunday, November 16, 2014 1:47 PM
To: nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
Subject: [nfbwatlk] More reflections on "reasonable accommodation"

Hi Mike, Debbie, Mary Ellen, and everyone,
Thank you for your comments and conversation about job hunting and "reasonable accommodation."
In my last post, I suggested A re-visitation of the term "reasonable accommodation," arguing that it carried overtones of paternalism, and questioning whether it didn't offer at least a subliminal invitation to ask employers to take care of us (and make allowances for our disabilities) rather than a gateway to full equal opportunity in the workplace. 
I argued that women, for example, did not request "accommodation" when insisting on gender appropriate bathrooms in formerly male-dominated work venues. We feminists argued that the adjustments made to the work environment through the influence of women would benefit all. To a point, at least, I think that prophecy has come true.
The ADA and its amendments have brought people with disabilities into the mainstream culture. Little by little, it is becoming less and less shameful to lay claim  to a disability.
Little by little, for many reasons, The idea of human finitude is becoming less an indictment of the individual and more a fact of the human condition.
More and more, the concepts of a quality and accessibility embodied in the ADA are becoming accepted as the civil rights that they were intended to be. And because of the ADA and it's statutory precursors, "reasonable accommodation" has become a legal term of art, carrying meaning distinct from that which the words alone might impart.
As a term of art, the ideas embodied in "reasonable accommodation" evolve with the culture, with the changing attitudes of the courts, and with shifting political sensibilities.
Whoever thought, in 1990 for example, that a major contender in the computer industry would build accessibility into the heart of its operating systems?
But it seems to me that questions still remain as to where our responsibility as blind people leaves off and that of society and employers begins.
Mike, I think that the blindness skills that you cite in your most recent posts have their place – working with an amanuensis, using a slate and stylus, and administering one's own insulin injection, for example. But to me this is the blindness equivalent of what everyone must do "off the grid,"when the power is out and the Internet comes down. They don't fit the everyday 21st century workplace anymore then weaving on a handloom or spinning yarn could make one's living after the Industrial Revolution.
 And we are in the middle of another Industrial Revolution.
Our ideas, our self-concept as resourceful  employees and entrepreneurs, and our skills have to keep pace.
And so should our expectations.
I don't fault at all the diabetics who insist on universal accessibility in the medical devices  marketed to them. If blindness is a foreseeable outcome of diabetes, isn't it about time for this?
And I'm not at all surprised that an employer might ask whether some piece of technology could make a human reader unnecessary. When was the last time you saw job openings for amanuenses on Craigslist? Not an especially flourishing career path. If anything, the use of a reader is task specific, and one can't reasonably expect an employer to hire someone just for that purpose (I'd like to know what the Feds do though).
I grew up being taught all of the traditional blindness skills. But when I graduated from college in 1972 and wanted an office job to support my ongoing criminal justice activism, I found that typewriters weren't being used anymore – only word processors. And these didn't speak. I had edited my high school newspaper, and had written freelance articles, gratis, for a national prison reform journal. But already I was being told that the process of submitting news copy was automated, and I wouldn't have a place in journalism.
I'm thinking aloud as I plot the direction of this post, so, my apologies for rambling.
Two thoughts come to mind at this point.
One is that the internal processes of each employer are not necessarily evident from the job description or even from an interview, and may be actively concealed as a legitimate business secret. Wiat the cited applicant observes (and absorbs) while walking through an office on the way to an interview might not catch our attention as we focus on the skills requested by the employer to fill the need. And as the employer sits down with HR managers to tease out the essential functions of a job, none might suspect that the medical record keeping or law office management software saving the company thousands each month is incompatible with JAWS. The devil is in the details.
The other thought is this: combat veterans who would have died on the battlefield only years ago are coming home to work and live in society with wounds demanding technologies heretofore unimagined. These vets don't want to be shut-ins. And who dares deny them the life they've paid for?
What I'm aiming for here is a concept beyond "reasonable accommodation." "Reasonable accommodation" is personal. The barrier free workplace – the barrier free market place – is societal. With "reasonable accommodation,"The wheel has to be refitted or refashined case by case. In a barrier free society, the same wheels could spin for everyone.
That's my dream.
Thanks for reading,

Elizabeth M René 
Attorney at Law 
WSBA #10710
KCBA #21824 
rene0373 at gmail.com
nfbwatlk mailing list
nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
To unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for nfbwatlk:

More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list