People with disabilities face many barriers to finding work, keeping their jobs, or getting better jobs. Some are unfairly screened out of opportunities, demoted, or even fired. Some cannot receive the accommodations they need. Others are not paid fairly and work in segregated workshops, where only disabled people work at menial jobs. Still others fear losing benefits if they return to work.
DRNC fights for people with disabilities to have the opportunity to be trained for fair paying jobs and get the reasonable accommodations they need to do their work, and we take action to end job discrimination against disabled people.
The reoccurring theme of our 15 for 15 campaign in celebration of DRNC’s 15th anniversary, is that everyone has a right to a fully integrated and accessible community. We are working to enforce the rights os people with disabilities to have equal opportunity, and the freedom to make their own decisions.
How DRNC helps to improve employment opportunities
- Enforcing your right to be free from workplace discrimination.
- Advocating for effective, personalized services that help you find competitive and integrated jobs.
- Ensuring that people who receive Social Security and Medicaid can get work incentives to continue their benefits while working
Discrimination at work can take many forms. It can be a termination, a reduction in pay or hours, denial of a promotion, harassment, or refusal to hire you because of the employer’s attitude about people with disabilities. Another common example of discrimination is an employer’s refusal to provide reasonable accommodations.
Protections under current legislation:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employment rights of people with disabilities who work for employers with more than 15 employees. Under the ADA, you are recognized as a person with a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Walking, seeing, speaking, and hearing are examples of major life activities. The ADA also protects people with “invisible” disabilities like autism, autoimmune disorders, and cancer.
The ADA forbids discrimination at all times during employment, including during job application procedures.
- Require you to disclose your disability;
- Ask about your medication;
- Ask if you have ever been in the hospital;
- Ask if you get disability benefits;
- Require a medical exam before a job offer; or
- Charge you for the cost of making a reasonable accommodation, or fire you for asking for one.
What “reasonable accommodation” are you able to ask for, once employed?
A reasonable accommodation is a change to the work environment or “the way things are usually done.” Accommodations allow a qualified individual with a disability equal opportunity in the workplace. A job applicant or employee with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time.
Examples of reasonable accommodations:
- A person diagnosed with cancer requests leave for radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
- A person who is deaf requests a sign language interpreter for a job interview.
- A person whose medication causes extreme grogginess requests to work a modified schedule.
- A person who is blind requests someone to read information posted on a bulletin board.
- A person with migraine headaches requests to turn off overhead lights.
- A person using a wheelchair asks for installation of a ramp into the building or grab bars in the restroom.
The passage of the ADA promised a new era of economic progress for people with disabilities. Yet, in North Carolina, only one-third of adults with disabilities are employed today. Many of them are underemployed. State policies historically subjected many people with disabilities to unfair wages, isolation, and limited work expectations and options. North Carolina is making progress but employment services continue to fail people with disabilities who aspire to obtain meaningful employment.
The good news, there’s a pathway forward.
In a landmark agreement earlier this year, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) agreed to phase out segregated employment services that rely heavily on the practice of paying workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities pennies on the dollar. The agreement promises to help over 1,000 disabled NC workers who currently work in segregated environments called sheltered workshops, where they are separated from their nondisabled peers, and often work for less than the minimum wage – far less, in many cases.
DRNC partnered with the Center for Public Representation (CPR) to achieve the agreement with DHHS. It will give people with disabilities the opportunity and support to leave the workshops and find jobs in their communities. Under the agreement, no one will immediately lose their current services. People can continue to receive their current services and will receive additional supports and services over the next five years to obtain jobs in the community that pay at least minimum wage.
“That you could work five days a week and only earn ten dollars in this day and age is just unbelievable to most people,” said DRNC Attorney Chris Hodgson, who worked with another disability rights organization to hammer out the agreement with the NC DHHS. “This agreement recognizes that people with disabilities have interests and skills, and must have opportunities to pursue jobs of their own choosing. It also provides workers with disabilities a path out of poverty and a chance at economic stability.”
Do you need legal help?
If you are facing a barrier in returning to work, getting a reasonable accommodation, or have lost your job because of discrimination, Disability Rights NC may be able to help.
The law protects you when you stand up for your rights. It is illegal for your employer to fire you or take other steps against you when you assert your rights.
Most employment discrimination claims must be brought within 180 days of the discriminatory act and in North Carolina must be filed with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Call 800-669-4000 or 800-669-6820 TTY to find your local office. You can also find more information online at www.eeoc.gov.