Ascent.jpgOn May 24, 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments went into effect, which were the result of the 2008 ADA Amendments Act signed into law by President Bush. 

Without question, the ADA Amendments make it easier for individuals to establish coverage. In fact, Congress overturned several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that had narrowly interpreted the definition of “disability,” resulting in a denial of protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy.

But this broader coverage should not be viewed as a negative. In this regard, we had the opportunity to interview Adam Kaplan of Big Tent Jobs, LLC, to discuss this topic. Big Tent Jobs is a Michigan-based company that focuses on placing individuals with disabilities into positions with leading employers. Mr. Kaplan’s insight in working with such individuals is considerable. It is, however, definitely exceeded by his passion for helping these individuals find opportunities to positively contribute in the workplace.

  • Your company is Big Tent Jobs. Explain what your company does and why were you motivated to develop this business.

Big Tent Jobs, LLC places ready to work individuals with disabilities at leading companies. Our firm matches the best “specially-abled” candidates with hiring managers who are committed to meeting and exceeding their business and diversity objectives. In doing so, our company aims to right the injustice that millions of talented individuals with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. We work with candidates to find skilled, well-paying jobs that allow them to showcase their talents and strengths.

It is important to remember that in the 20+ years since the ADA was signed, the rate of individuals with disabilities in the workforce has not markedly improved. In fact, studies have shown that during parts of the current recession, working-age individuals with disabilities have lost jobs at rates up to three times as high as non-disabled individuals. Big Tent is focused on reversing this trend for the benefit of individuals and prospective employers. 

Our candidates include hearing and visually impaired individuals, as well as individuals who use wheelchairs and those who have emotional disabilities. They include engineers, lawyers, accountants and IT personnel. What stands out most about the people we work with is their dedication to use their expertise to be productive citizens and desire to secure the job that they need and deserve.

  • An important component under the Americans with Disability Act is the interactive process that both the employee and employer should engage in to determine an appropriate, reasonable accommodation. Do you have any general recommendations for employers and individuals who may require a reasonable accommodation when it comes to addressing such accommodations?

Yes – disclose, disclose, disclose! Disclosure by individuals is the best way to go and employers have a responsibility to create the work environment that makes disclosure a good option for someone with a hidden disability.

It is not as hard as it might seem to accommodate a worker with a special need. Since current or new employees with disabilities may have lived with their disabilities for a long time, or all their lives, they usually know what accommodations they need and may already have what is needed, such as a modified keyboard or adapted handheld device so that an employer might not even need to spend any money.

In the instances where an employer must invest in an accommodation, many accommodations are paid by governmental agencies, although budgetary constraints will make this option less and less of a possibility.

Finally, there are tax credits and other incentives for making accommodations that are out there and discoverable with a minimum amount of research.

  • What do you see as a challenging issue for employees and employers when it comes to reasonable accommodations in the workplace?

The biggest challenge is one of perception – an emotional one – that someone with a disability is getting “special treatment” by the employer. The key is having open conversations about the accommodations and how they are designed to put the person with a disability on a level playing field with that person’s colleagues to enable the person to do the job. And if extra help is needed to determine what is an appropriate accommodation there are free resources like the Job Accommodation Network in addition to attorneys who focus on ADA issues. 

  • What point would you like employers to take away when it comes to hiring employees who may need a workplace accommodation due to a disability?

Accommodating people with disabilities is EASY if both parties use honest, clear communication and exercise common sense. Fifteen to twenty percent of the working-age population today has a disability and over time 1 in 4 working people will acquire one. We owe it to our friends, colleagues and ourselves to do everything we can to fully integrate these able workers into our companies.

  • Any last words?

Hire talented candidates with disabilities now! For an example of the candidates we have to offer, watch the upcoming show “A Wider World” on WTVS Detroit on August 16, 2011 at 5.30pm where three such candidates will be profiled. 

Additional Considerations

Mr. Kaplan’s observations about the importance of communication between the employer and employee cannot be emphasized enough. This is especially true for employers because under the ADA unlawful discrimination specifically includes “not making reasonable accommodations [for a] qualified individual with a disability…” 42 USC 12112(b)(5)(A). For information about responding to or making a request for a reasonable accommodation see our prior post: A Road Map for Responding to Requests for Accommodations under the Americans with Disability Act.