Saturday, July 14, 2012

Disability Discrimination: A Story in Three Parts

Part One: Request

If you live with a disability of any sort, you know how it works. You have equal rights (in the US, under the Americans with Disabilities Act). You have a right to a reasonable accommodation so you can participate fully and equally. So, you do what I do... when you need to participate in a service generally available to the public (in legal terms, a "public accommodation"), you request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

September 2011 and again in December 2011:
My organization is a member of a nonprofit called "TechSoup Global." TechSoup offers tons of excellent training, information and even massive discounts on computer technology and software for nonprofits.

From their website:
"TechSoup is a nonprofit with a clear focus: providing other nonprofits and libraries with technology that empowers them to fulfill their missions and serve their communities. As part of that goal, we provide technology products and information geared specifically to the unique challenges faced by nonprofits and libraries. Learning resources, including articles, blogs, free webinars, and forums led by expert hosts are available to all users."

I'm a believer in TechSoup and TechSoup's mission. I've participated in their forums, used their product donation processes for years, and introduced myriad other nonprofit leaders to their benefits. And, since TechSoup's annual income is over several million dollars, and they hold assets of several million more, I was aware that TechSoup is a comprehensive, large nonprofit with a substantially complex infrastructure, including professionals who make all of their many services work.

So, when I requested a basic accommodation (provision of text captioning) for a virtual meeting in September, and for an online webinar in December, I was more than surprised to be told:

  • We don't have to, and
  • We can't afford it, and
  • We don't have the capacity.
My next step, which is the same as I use for all situations where I assume there is a massive lack of knowledge or understanding (i.e. ignorance) that can be, therefore, remedied through education and accurate information, was to provide the key person with information and links to ADA resources.

He gave the same three reasons in a variety of ways and so, no accommodations were provided. I was facing disability discrimination. I could have simply filed an ADA Title III Complaint with the US Dept. of Justice. I had loads of email based correspondence to prove my attempts at education....

But, I didn't file a complaint.

Instead, I asked (several times actually) to be connected further up the "chain of responsibility." Perhaps this one employee was ignorant of the requirements of federal law, but I realized that even if he didn't know his responsibilities, perhaps his bosses did.

And... guess what? They didn't.
Stay tuned...for next week's blog entry about this 10 month journey.

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