Today is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That long time means that for many people in the workforce, it's always been in effect, yet there are still problems with implementation. Many people--with and without disabilities--misunderstand the meaning and implementation of the law. Here are some myths and realities about it.
1. Myth: You can't fire someone with a disability.
You can fire anyone, even someone with a disability. ADA simply means you can't fire someone because of the disability. For instance, if John, who is in a wheelchair, is embezzling, you can fire him immediately. You can even fire John if he's doing his best but just can't do the job (as long as you've made reasonable accommodations; see below).
2. Myth: Disabled people can make their own demands for accommodations.
The reality is, it's called an "interactive process." The employee can make a suggestion, the business can counter, and an agreement can be reached. The key thing here is that the accommodation must be reasonable. It's reasonable for Jane the accountant, who suffers from chronic migraines, to have an office she can keep dimly lit and quiet. It's not reasonable for Jim the rock-club bartender, who also suffers from chronic migraines, to have a quiet work area. Same disability, different job, different reasonableness.
3. Myth: If you give an accommodation to one person, you have to allow it for all.
No, you don't. Jose has diabetes and works the floor in a grocery store. He has to check his blood sugar regularly, and sometimes he needs to eat right away to keep himself from getting ill. So, he needs to keep some food in his pocket and sometimes he needs to eat it while he's working. You can allow him to do that and not allow any other employees the same privilege. You can keep your "All food must be consumed in the break room" rule for everyone but Jose.
4. Myth: This only applies to disabilities we can see.
Sometimes people think ADA applies only to people in wheelchairs, or with missing limbs or something similar. This is far from true. Tons of conditions qualify under ADA, including things you wouldn't know about unless the employee volunteered the information. You might be surprised at the people you already know and love who have a non-visible disability.
5. Myth: If I hire a disabled person, they'll find a way to sue me.
Only if you aren't willing to work with that person to create a reasonable accommodation. There's no evidence that disabled employees are more likely to bring frivolous lawsuits than any other group. Follow the law and you'll be OK.
6. Myth: My business is small, so I don't need to comply.
This one is partially true. ADA kicks in only when you hit 15 employees, so if you have fewer than that, you don't have to comply. But you should anyway. What do you have to gain from excluding a group of people from your talent pool? Nothing.
7. Myth: If I'm disabled, you have to hire me no matter what.
You can't take a person's disability into account when making a job offer, but you can take their ability to do the core functions of the job. When you interview a person with a disability, you look at his or her ability to the job, just what you'd look for in a non-disabled person. It's still about hiring the right person for the right job.