SAN DIEGO—Attitude, respect and equality are keys to comply successfully with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and keys to living a good life, remarked Glenn McIntyre, executive director of McIntyre & Associates in Camarillo, Calif., on June 28, 2010 at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference held here.
McIntyre's good attitude was evident at his concurrent session, despite the extra obstacles he faces every day.
A wheelchair user, McIntyre noted that it takes him four hours from the time he gets up to when he leaves his house each day. So, he has to really want to be wherever he's going.
"I get up earlier than most because I want to be at work," he remarked. He said his story is typical of people with disabilities in the workforce. People with disabilities often want to be at work and people who want to be at work make great employees, he said.
With the unemployment rate of people with disabilities at 65 percent, it's an "incredible feeling" for someone with a disability to land a job. McIntyre noted that HR professionals have the ability to help provide individuals with disabilities with the opportunity to work.
But don't expect people with disabilities to be all the same, he cautioned, saying that peoples' disabilities are "unique as their fingerprints."
Moreover, things aren't always what they appear, he added, noting that some assume he is blind because he has a service dog. Once when he got behind the steering wheel to drive, someone blurted out in amazement, "look, a blind man is trying to drive!"
The easiest philosophy to comply with the ADA is looking for what people can do, rather than what they can't do, McIntyre emphasized. Before his injury, McIntyre said he saw what people with disabilities can't do. Now he looks at all they can do.
Ask Not What You Can’t Do
McIntyre can drive with hand controls on his car. He can play tennis and has risen to the ranking of No. 3 in wheelchair tennis.
"With a positive attitude you can accomplish almost anything," he said.
But often the focus remains on what people with disabilities can't do. If managers are asked what is the first question they would ask applicants, most would respond “what their qualifications are.” If a manager is told the applicant has a disability, that first question all too often might be what that person cannot do or what's wrong with the person, according to McIntyre.
Once someone is hired and requests an accommodation, an employer can ask the person what the disability is if it is not apparent, and then ask for documentation of the disability, McIntyre noted.
An employer shouldn't presume it knows how to accommodate someone who requests an accommodation without first asking what assistance is needed. McIntyre suggested that managers periodically ask all employees whether there is anything they can do to assist employees in their jobs, as workers with disabilities might be reluctant to bring up accommodations.
Train employees to talk directly with customers who have disabilities. McIntyre said that food servers at restaurants often ask his wife, not him, for his order. This might be good for a laugh, but people with disabilities deserve to be treated with more respect.
In conclusion, McIntyre attributed his success in life to the support of family and friends, his faith and attitude. "If you have a good attitude, you'll have a great life," he remarked.
Allen Smith is manager of workplace law content for SHRM.