May 20, 2024

Reasonable Accommodation

Does it help America to be accommodating to the physically and mentally impaired?  Political correctness demands that this question and others like it not be asked.  Why?  Because the answer is so clearly “Yes” that no further examination is needed?   That anyone who would dare question the rights of the disabled is of such low intelligence that their queries are inherently invalid.  Neither is true.

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to force employers to do something they did not want to do, namely to ignore their desire to hire the best possible applicants based solely on their own criteria. 

As Marta Russell puts it:

Since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, for example, business has fought, tooth and nail, integrating disability in the workplace by providing a reasonable accommodation as required by the ADA. In the first decade of the law, the disabled employment rate has not budged from its pre-civil rights figure of 70 percent unemployed. Capitalist business accounting practices can be held accountable.

Prejudice-based disability discrimination, resting on employer assumptions that the disabled person cannot do the job or on employer-resistance to hiring a blind, deaf, mobility or otherwise impaired person just as they might not want to hire blacks or women, undoubtedly contributes significantly to the high unemployment rate of disabled people. Disabled workers also face inherent economic discrimination within the capitalist system, stemming from employers’ expectations of encountering additional nonstandard production costs when hiring a disabled worker as opposed to hiring a worker with no need for special accommodation, environmental modifications, liability insurance, maximum health care coverage or even health care coverage at all.

Using this analysis, the prevailing rate of exploitation determines who is “disabled” and who is not.

The prevailing rate of exploitation.  How droll!  On one hand Marxist/Leninist tripe went out of style with the utter collapse of communism.  On the other, it’s a pleasant change to see an enemy one can recognize, secure in the knowledge that their brand of “I hate America” can be dismissed by the simple means of telling the truth.

Therefore, my reply to Russell is a hearty, “So what?”

Imagine there is a bit of land with nothing whatever on it, just some grasses and the odd tree here and there.  Imagine you buy the land, work it into shape, and begin to grow corn there.  Is it not your corn to do with as you please?  Obviously it is.  You sell the corn, are pleased to learn you have more than what you started with, and buy more seed in preparation for the next year.

In planting in the spring you realize that you could use some help as your intent is farm more acres.  Out of a crowd walking by you pick a trustworthy-looking man and ask him if he will help you in exchange for X dollars.  He agrees, the work is done, and you pay him.  Where is the exploitation?  Was he forced to accept your bargain?  Of course not.  Both of you benefitted.

Socialist drivel.  If a woman in a wheelchair had rolled by and said that she would work at the same rate as the man, are you obligated to give her a job even though you know that she cannot perform the work?  Clearly not.

Yet some disagree.  In its wisdom, Congress decided that employers could not consider handicaps as an integral criteria during the hiring process and that they must make “reasonable accommodation” to physically and mentally handicapped workers unless doing so would be an “undue hardship”.

(At this point, let’s take a moment to recall what Mark Twain said about Congress for a brief moment, shall we?)

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management defines the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” as follows:

What is reasonable accommodation?

The term “reasonable accommodation” is a term of art that Congress defined only through examples of changes or modifications to be made, or items to be provided, to a qualified individual with a disability. A reasonable accommodation is adapting the job site or job functions for a qualified person with a disability to enable an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. This does not mean that the employer must lower the standards of work for the position or change the job requirements. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • Modifications or adjustments to a job application process to permit an individual with a disability to be considered for a job (such as providing application forms in alternative formats like large print or Braille);
  • Modifications or adjustments necessary to enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job (such as providing sign language interpreters); and
  • Modifications or adjustments that enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as removing physical barriers in an office cafeteria).

What is an undue hardship?

An agency is not required to make an accommodation if it can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its everyday operations. An undue hardship is an action that requires “significant difficulty or expense” in relation to:

  • overall size of the agency’s program with respect to the number of employees, number and type of facilities and size of budget;
  • type of operation, including the composition and structure of the agency’s workforce; and
  • nature and cost of the accommodation

In other words, if an organization has made enough money to be able to afford the extra costs of hiring a disabled worker then it must, all else being equal.

“But the law doesn’t say that businesses must hire the disabled person!”

Perhaps not.  But the potential cost of legal action – being far higher than the salaries paid to most workers – dictates that businesses take precautions against incurring those costs by hiring disabled workers in cases where they otherwise would not.

Is that wrong?  It’s proper to help people less fortunate than oneself, isn’t it?  Isn’t that what being a Christian is all about?

The answer to all three questions is “Yes”.  We should help the disabled to live decent lives just as we should help our grandparents and care for children without parents.  But it is wrong for a government to force moral obligations on its citizens. 

Indeed, actions such as providing for widows and the inform should be done out of charity by those who value them, not by the bureaucrats in Washington who use the IRS to confiscate our tax dollars.

The sense of entitlement is everywhere now.  One need not look far to see the corruption.  Earlier this year, for example, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. and the state of Texas seeking to ensure that all applications used by the state government are accessible to blind state employees.

Tommy Craig, president of the Texas chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said that Texas law requires that “all software and computer systems purchased by the state be accessible for blind employees. That law has been in effect for 10 years.” He noted blind supervisors cannot now access the records of workers who report to them, while blind employees can’t access their own records without assistance, which raises privacy and confidentiality issues.

Craig suggested that various remedies are available to the state to make applications accessible to blind employees. For instance, a Braille enabled device could be attached to a computer serial port, or applications could be voice-enabled, he said. “It doesn’t take a lot to do it. Just put a little a planning into it,” Craig said.

Edwin Kunz, who directs a rehabilitation center for the blind within the Health and Human Services Commission’s Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and a plaintiff in the case, said he has been hurt by the lack of access to the HR applications. “Because I must have sighted assistance for all of these personnel functions, both my privacy and the privacy of my employees are routinely violated,” he said in a statement. “I’ve complained about the problems with the software, but nothing has been done to fix them. I hope this lawsuit will spur Oracle to move quickly to correct this problem; otherwise the state will have to purchase human resources software from someone else.”

Kunz epitomizes entitlement syndrome; he evidently believes that he is entitled to dictate terms to his employer, the state of Texas. 

Craig may very well be right – a Braille keyboard could possibly solve Kunz’s problem.  However, consider the complications of using computer software without being able to see a monitor.  The blind navigate such systems by means of feats of memorization that most of us would find impossible to duplicate.  Does this then mean that upgrades to the Oracle software must remain constant in terms of its user interface so as not to inconvenience the blind?  Must the software read all error messages aloud to users unable to see a break in the normal pattern of interacting with the machine?  What other costs would this lawsuit, if successful, force onto Oracle?

As economist Richard Epstein said, “successful enforcement under the guise of ‘reasonable accommodation’ necessarily impedes the operation and efficiency of firms.”

That said, it’s important to note that these most costs will not stay on Larry Ellison’s balance sheet for long.  They will be passed on to his customers and on to the end of the capitalist food chain, the consumer.  That’s you and me, meaning that Kunz’s accommodation is acts as a form of second-hand taxation.

Craig went on to say: 

“The state Legislature of Texas recognized the need for equal access for the blind by passing a law requiring it, and it is unconscionable that a state agency is violating that law.”

Untrue.  While it would be mean and uncharitable for a wealthly person to refuse the request for alms made by a crippled person, it does not automatically follow that it is acceptable for the government to tax them in order to provide for those unable to care for themselves. 

No, what is truly unconscionable is the notion that one’s disadvantages automatically act as a key to unlock the cash boxes of every person able to afford the transfer of wealth to those with friends in the government. 

We should help others because we want to, not because we have to.  Charity is an act of compassion, of love, freely given.  Wealth redistribution is theft by those with the votes, performed legally, because the rules say they are entitled to do it.

Entitlement fever does not stop at forced charity (consider what happens to those who don’t pay).  No, it carries over into every aspect of life, including high school marching bands.

The Texas Education Agency has launched an investigation into a complaint filed against Bryan High School’s Special Education Department.

Trevor Goehl, who uses a wheelchair, played the trumpet in the Bryan High marching band during the 2005-06 school year. But the 16-year-old wasn’t allowed to play on the field and participate in the halftime show to the same extent as other students.

Instead, he played from the sidelines in the front ensemble, which is made up of percussionists whose bulky instruments don’t allow them to march with the rest of the band, BHS Band Director Robert Towell said.

Jeff Goehl, Trevor’s father, said he filed the complaint against the district because his son was not allowed to participate as a normal student.

“To separate disabled students from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their disability generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in school and community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone,” Jeff Goehl wrote in his TEA complaint.

Towell said that a student in a wheelchair could not maneuver on the field without endangering himself or other students due to the fast-paced, intricate nature of the band’s halftime performances.

“We have accommodated in the best possible way, I think, for this student, as we do with any student,” the band director said.

I would admire Jeff Groehl’s efforts to fight for his son, if that was what he was doing.  But his son no longer attends the school in question.  Instead, Groehl is pursuing a social agenda:

“What we really wanted was for Bryan ISD to develop some sort of plan that would allow a wheelchair student to be in the band and receive meaningful benefit from the program,” he said. “We need to have something on the shelf so when the next kid comes along, we’re not back in this same position.”

Does Groehl envision a student volunteer wheeling a disabled trumpet player around the football field in cadence with the other band members?  Has he even heard the term “reasonable accommodation”, flawed as it is?  Has he considered the “undue hardship” that would be placed on other band members when their programs would – inevitably – be simplified to make a place for such a participant and make them unable to compete with other bands at the highest level possible?

It’s great that his son wanted to play – did in fact play – in the school band.  But the boy’s desire does not automatically entitle him to a place in the marching band’s on-field activities any more than my desire to play basketball entitled me to a place on my high school team’s roster.  To think desire equates to entitlement is to be a fool.

I’ll repeat the question:  Is it helping America to bend over backwards for the disabled?  I think it is a fair question to ask.  The answer is not as clear as some would have us believe.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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