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The Advocacy and Awareness Train Rolls On

By Larry Lorenzo

(Editor’s Note:  The following article is reprinted from Que Pasa, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.)

After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, the task of educating society about both the letter and spirit of the law was taken on by numerous advocates.  Title III of the ADA, which addresses places of public accommodations, is a good example.  "Reasonable accommodations" were required in order to assure that people with disabilities had access to goods and services.  After many years of advocacy efforts, one would think that the objective of awareness and education had been met.  However, the truth is that advocacy and increasing awareness is an ongoing process.

Recently, a legally blind individual asked for my help in a case of denied access.  These are the basics of the situation: the individual went to a doctor’s office for an appointment that had been made well in advance.  The receptionist asked that he update some paperwork.  When he told her he was legally blind and needed assistance, she told him to take the form with him, fill it out, and reschedule the appointment.  Aside from causing inconvenience, the receptionist’s unreasonable request put this person in a real bind because he required a refill of medication. Consequently, this delay had potential medical implications.  Understandably, he was beyond frustrated when he contacted me.

I prepared a letter detailing the specifics of Title III of the ADA.  I suggested that a "reasonable accommodation" would have been that the receptionist or other staff member take a few minutes to help the individual update his information so he could keep his appointment.  This letter was hand-delivered to the doctor's office with a personal, confidential notice on the envelope.  Within two days, the individual was asked to come in for an appointment.  The doctor expressed concern over the situation and agreed to be more accommodating.

What concerns me is the frequency with which such events seem to be occurring.  A quick survey of advocacy organizations indicated that this was not an isolated case.  It is not acceptable for people with disabilities to be denied services because of clerical barriers.  In an effort to be reasonable and understanding, we acknowledge the time pressure of clerical staff.  What other options can be considered?  Providing electronic copies of required forms is possible.  Also, if time permits, sending such materials via traditional mail may be considered.  Offering assistance in the office should always remain a consideration.  Of course, any option offered should be appropriate for the individual and the situation.

 These cases are typically addressed on an individual basis.  A more effective approach may be to address a professional organization and promote awareness and education as a systems issue.  This strategy is being considered at the time of the writing of this article.

Much progress has been made in changing what it means to be blind and increasing awareness of all disabilities.  But let's not forget that years of myths and misconceptions won't change without ongoing effort.  The Americans with Disabilities Act is not an entitlement program: it is Civil Rights legislation.  There is more work to be done before we can claim equality and enjoy the opportunities of first-class citizens.

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