Jon Yates, Chicago Tribune, “What’s Your Problem?” - March 9, 2014
So many barriers that individual disabled people face are easy to solve, except that nobody in a responsible position will focus on it for ten minutes and make a decision. Here, a court worker with MS has a really hard time walking from where she’s allowed to park her car, into the building where she works. She identifies a specific, practical fix for the problem … let her and a couple other disabled workers in the same building use some handicapped spots in a much closer lot normally reserved for judges and other bigwigs. These handicapped spots apparently usually go unused anyway.
The problem is either that she doesn’t know who is the right person to talk to in order to get a decision made, or that there is nobody in that particular workplace who is responsible for such decisions and knows that they are. It took the intervention of a newspaper, and the head of the whole Chicago court system, to get the situation resolved. Without knowing anything else about the case, several thoughts occur to me:
• Municipalities and some municipal departments are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to have an appointed ADA Coordinator, a manager within the organization who handles all accessibility and disability accommodation problems. Does the Chicago Court System have an ADA Coordinator? What about the City of Chicago?
• I can also easily imagine a situation where there IS an ADA Coordinator for the court system, but the person either doesn’t realize they are, or they have been poorly trained for the job and / or nobody listens to them. “Oh, by the way Joe, you’re our ADA Coordinator now. I dunno, some disability thing …”
• Note that the solution they came up with, which seems fine by the way, nevertheless does NOT involve letting disabled workers park in the VIP lot. It sounds like it would have been fine, but I’ll bet those spots are massively coveted perks in that bureaucracy, and they’re not about to hand them out just because they make practical sense!
• It would be easy to see this as a fairly minor problem. But, the quotes from Ms. Walsh’s daughter highlight how an “inconvenience” can quickly become a serious barrier. Ms. Walsh’s family are worried about it already. What if she did fall on the ice one day? Would she really injure herself? Would her continued employment there become an “issue” in her family, causing more anxiety because she’d be worried about them being worried? “Little things” like this can snowball quite quickly. It’s one reason why we sometimes here what sound like ridiculous stories of disabled people losing a job because of something silly like parking, or lack of a really simple accommodation.
• This thing of plowed snow being piled into handicapped parking spaces is so widespread that carelessness alone can’t be the only reason for it. I suspect that it is a fairly common idea floating around public works departments and facility maintenance crews that, a. There are too many handicapped spaces overall, b. They go unused “all the time”, and therefore, c. It’s perfectly fine to plow snow into handicapped spaces since “everyone knows nobody uses them”. It’s just a hunch, mind you, and you’d never get anyone to admit on the record this is what they think.
• I hope someone in the local EEOC office looks into how Ms. Walsh’s inquiry was handled. It’s possible they weren’t quite as rude as the article portrays. Also, I would agree that this kind of problem really is too small for the EEOC … not small in importance, but small as in easily solved without lawyers and a federal agency. The EEOC staffer should have helped Ms. Walsh solve the problem herself.
• What the Chicago Tribune reporter did to get the problem solved is exactly what Centers for Independent Living are meant to do. Chicago is a big city, with more problems like this than 12 CILs could handle, much less one, but I still wonder why it took the Chicago Tribune to solve this problem.
• Come to think of it, the article offers virtually no useful advice as to who to consult if similar disability accommodation problems crop up in other workplaces.
There are enough disability-related problems that are legitimately hard to solve. Can't we at least get our acts together to fix the easy stuff?