A little knowledge, common sense and compassion will go a long way when Working with Disabled People

A little knowledge, common sense and compassion will go a long way when Working with Disabled People

by Bradley Wilson

This article originally printed in the summer 2004 edition of Communication: Journalism Education Today.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and requires reasonable accommodation

Disability Overview
Disability law is largely regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which took effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as any of the following:
• a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual;
• a record of such impairment; and
• being regarded as having such an impairment.

While alcoholism is included as a disability, other socially undesirable behavior is excluded from the Act. For example, sexual behavior disorders such as pedophilia as well as transvestism, compulsive gambling and pyromania are excluded.

Some people are explicitly excluded from coverage, including:

  • current users of illegal drugs (but those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are covered, and an employer may continue to conduct drug tests on employees for illegal drugs);
  • those with “sexual behavior disorders,” such as transvestism or transsexualism;
  • those who have the conditions of compulsive gambling, kleptomania or pyromania.

Other individuals who are protected in certain circumstances include those, such as parents, who have an association with an individual known to have a disability and those who are coerced or subjected to retaliation for assisting people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.

While the employment provisions of the ADA apply to employers of 15 employees or more, its public accommodations provisions apply to all sizes of business, regardless of number of employees. State and local governments are covered regardless of size.

The Act, however, does not list all impairments covered. ADA further requires that reasonable accommodation be made so as to provide individuals with disabilities equal opportunities. Agencies and departments charged with enforcement of ADA include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice.

States may pass disability statutes so long as they are consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other statutes prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities include the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Air Carrier Access Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

ADA: A Brief Overview
Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a wide-ranging legislation intended to make American Society more accessible to people with disabilities.

It is divided into five titles:

Employment (Title I): Business must provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment. Possible changes may include restructuring jobs, altering the layout of workstations or modifying equipment. Employment aspects may include the application process, hiring, wages, benefits and all other aspects of employment. Medical examinations are highly regulated.

Public Services (Title II): Public services, which include state and local government instrumentalities, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation and other commuter authorities, cannot deny services to people with disabilities nor participation in programs or activities that are available to people without disabilities. In addition, public transportation systems, such as public transit buses, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Public Accommodations (Title III): All new construction and modifications must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For existing facilities, barriers to services must be removed if readily achievable. Public accommodations include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, etc., as well as privately owned transportation systems.

Telecommunications (Title IV): Telecommunications companies offering telephone service to the public must have telephone relay service to individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTYs) or similar devices.

Miscellaneous (Title V): Includes a provision prohibiting either (a) coercing or threatening or (b) retaliating against the disabled or those attempting to aid people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.

Why do we need it?
In the United States, 43 million individuals have physical or mental disabilities. Too often they are excluded from the mainstream of American life by attitudes and inaccessible environments. Sixty-seven percent of all people with disabilities are unemployed, even among college graduates. The ADA benefits everyone as each person has a 20 percent chance of becoming a person with a disability and a 50 percent chance of having a family member with a disability.

SOURCE: Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act
A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include but is not limited to:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting modifying exams, training materials or policies and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
  • An employer is required to make an accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.

An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation, nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.

SOURCE:U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

National Center on Disability and Journalism

Tips for interviewing people with disabilities

The Best Tip
Ask the expert – the person you are interviewing – about how best to provide their accommodation.

Before the Interview

  • Ask the interviewee if they require any specific accommodation. (Wheelchair access, quiet place, interpreter, etc.) If unsure about how to provide the accommodation, ask the interviewee.
  • Allow plenty of time for the interview. Some accommodations require additional time (for example: interpreters, speech boards, etc.)

Setting up the Interview

  • Place yourself and the camera (if applicable) at interviewee’s eye level.
  • If the interview will take place on a platform, and the interviewee has a physical disability, be sure there is proper physical access to the interviewing area.

During the interview

  • When interviewing a person with disability, speak directly to that person and maintain eye contact rather than interacting directly with an interpreter or companion.
  • Use the same interviewing techniques and manner as you usually do. Speak in relaxed, everyday tones.
  • When talking with a person with a hearing loss, be sure to face them and do not cover your mouth when you speak. Place yourself so that you face the light source and are not backlit. Make sure you talk when the person is looking at you.
  • When meeting an interviewee who has a visual impairment, identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  • Listen attentively when you are talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for them. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
  • When covering an event where a sign or oral interpreter is present, be aware of the communication between an interpreter or real time captioner and the person using their services. Avoid walking between them or blocking their communication while taking a photograph. Often people who use interpreters are located near the front in a designated section. Remember, blocking this communication is like pulling the plug on the public address system.

Other etiquette suggestions

  • Focus on the person you are interviewing, not the disability.
  • Shake hands when greeting a person with a disability. People with prosthetics or limited hand motion usually shake hands.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions.
  • A wheelchair or other assistive devise is part of the person’s body space. Don’t lean or hang on a person’s wheelchair.
  • Service animals and guide dogs are working. Do not make eye contact, praise, talk or pet the animal. It is distracting for the animal and owner.

© 2002, National Center on Disability and Journalism. Reprinted with permission.

Tips for Teaching Deaf Students

Make sure you have the deaf students’ attention. Remember they cannot hear you so you may need to flash the lights, tap on the desk or touch them to get their attention.

When communicating with deaf students, always speak directly to them, not to the interpreter. Eye contact gives them the feeling of direct communication. Also, turning your head away to look at the interpreter can make it more difficult to lip read.

Notify the interpreter in advance of videos and other special presentations that may be in the dark. It is extremely hard to interpret and read sign in the dark.

Provide the interpreter with an outline of lectures or discussion priorities in advance. The information helps both the student and the interpreter follow the thinking process more clearly. Provide security by emphasizing the process and the structure.

Use visual aids. They are a tremendous help to deaf students because vision is their primary sense. Make full use of overhead, white boards and films with closed captions.

Try to slow your pace of communication. Speakers tend to speed up when talking about familiar topics. In addition, there is an unavoidable time lag with interpreters. Give them time to “catch up.”

In the event that the interpreter is absent, assign a “note taker” to take notes to give to the deaf student. Also, seat the lip-reading student at the front of the room. If needed, set up a time with the deaf student and interpreter to go over assignments to make sure the student understands the process and the expectations.

By Stephanie Martinell

Sue Farlow

Teaching with cancer
A journalism adviser’s journey to June

How-to untangle the difficult. Journalism advisers know about decoding computer programs and defending freedom of the press. The human experience, though, means they also learn how to function with spirit when encountering the unrepeatable word: cancer.

I should have known.

The mammogram was “fine,” but the lump was still there. Of course, I was too busy to even think about it until 3 a.m. when I woke up worrying about the next deadline.

It was October, and I was dealing with senior make-up pictures and underclass pictures for the yearbook. We were frantically trying to make our first deadline. The first issue of the newspaper had just been published. I would feel the lump and think that I needed to call the doctor. In the meantime, I would be hit with several crises a day, which made the lump leave my mind until 3 the next morning.

This time last year, I thought I was a happy, healthy woman with a great job that no one else could do but me. We were working on the last issue of the newspaper, waiting for the yearbook to come back and collating the literary magazine. I was looking forward to a great summer.

After I went to the doctor on Thursday afternoon, he sent me to the Breast Center in Greensboro. My appointment was Monday at 8 a.m.

After Dr. Dover looked at my mammogram, she did an ultra sound and a biopsy immediately. She told me to go home and rest rather than to return to work that day. I was much too busy and much too important to take time off work. It was May, for heaven’s sake. Ever try to explain a deadline to a substitute? I bravely drove to work with an ice pack stuffed in my bra. I told my husband he needed to go back with me the next afternoon.

Bad news. Dr. Dover put her arms around me and said, “We cry a lot around here.”

I went to school Wednesday in shock, but didn’t say anything — I was still much too busy.

Surgery was scheduled for the following Wednesday. I took my editors into the office Monday afternoon and told them I wouldn’t be here Wednesday. After the usual NOOO (they hate bookwork when the sub is there), I told them that I wouldn’t be back for at least two weeks. When I told them I had just been diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, two of them cried. Because I cry if anyone else is crying, we all had a cry together. Fortunately, I timed it down to the minute, and the bell rang.

The next morning, my second-period class crept into the classroom. I bravely smiled my reassurance that I would be okay — remember, I was too busy for diversions.

I left great lesson plans. English Honors was slugging through “The Awakening,” the yearbook staff was getting ready for the big day and Journalism was slugging through Journalism Today. They hate bookwork and wanted to put “The only good sub is a sandwich” on their journalism T-shirts, but I wouldn’t let them. The sub was a friend of mine I had taught with for years. They settled for “Bookwork? NNNNOOOOOO…” The literary magazine went to the printer.

While I was out, they had a great yearbook distribution day. The literary magazine came back — all but one copy they saved for me was sold. The last issue of the newspaper looked great. For the first time in 17 years I didn’t look at one word before it went to press. This was a humbling experience for someone as busy and important as I was. How could all of this possibly get done without me?

I returned to school on the last day of classes before exams. I was the only one who could get my students ready for their exams. It was time to be busy and important again. But now I was scared, too.

Right after school, we had a meeting for all students taking yearbook the next year. We gave them their folder with the ads they had to sell during the summer. I noticed a woman standing outside my door, but I waited to talk to her until I was sure the sophomores understood how to sell a yearbook ad.

Finally, I got around to her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the yearbook editor creep out the back door. He knew what was coming — one mad mother waiting for me. It seems we forgot to put her daughter’s senior ad in the yearbook. In my nicest placating voice, I explained that I had been out and I would look into it. Those words didn’t appease her one bit. In fact, she had heard that I had breast cancer — and that didn’t have any effect either. Apparently, she was a survivor — and convinced that someone on the staff was sabotaging her daughter deliberately.

A row of freshmen girls had the wrong names under their pictures. Upset mothers went to the principal about it because that, too, was done deliberately — they even accused the editor, who didn’t even work on those pages. He told me later he got yelled at for a solid week after the yearbooks came out — by mothers, the principal and the girls. All of a sudden, I was half glad I had been out. Somebody else could be busy and important for a while.

Last summer is a blur. Dr. Young, my surgeon, inserted a port-a-cath to prepare for chemo. I had my hair cut short to prepare for losing it. I will never forget the day I woke up with clumps of hair on my pillow. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in June, 10 days after my first chemo treatment. I put my hand in my hair and pulled out clumps.

That afternoon, I drank a glass of wine. Then on the back steps I whacked my hair as I did when I was 2 years old. In a macabre way, it felt good. At least I was in control of something. Two days later I was completely bald. I put my wig on and went to chemo.

My first round of chemo was every three weeks. My husband, David drove me to the Piedmont Cancer Center in Greensboro. Fortunately, I was eligible to be in a “study” of cancer patients. Cindy Shaw, my amazing research nurse, met me at every appointment, listened to my complaints and laughed at my feeble attempts at jokes.

She went with me to see my oncologist, Dr. Rubin, who was another amazing person. He ordered adriamycin and cytoxan for my chemotherapy. It was so toxic, the nurse wouldn’t put it through a drip, but had to push it through the port-a-cath herself. If it got on my skin, it could burn it — if it got in tissue, it could cause damage — and they were putting it in a vein going to my heart. I spent the summer in bed, crying and hurting, and I couldn’t tell you why I was crying or where it hurt. I survived on Gatorade and saltines.

Of course, I went back to school in August. I was going to be busy and important again.

Late August chemo was changed to once a week. I left Asheboro High School every Thursday at noon with a box of food for the weekend — each department from school took turns providing food. For a couple of weeks, I came back to school on Friday. As the chemo began to take its toll, I came back on Monday — then Tuesday. By Thanksgiving, I was teaching only 2 1/2 days a week.

My fingernails turned black, and my teeth turned brown. I never knew how important eyelashes were till I didn’t have any. I made my own eyebrows with an Estée Lauder eyebrow pencil. Sometimes they were even, but most of the time they weren’t.

My fingers and toes went numb — again chemo — and the only shoes I could get on my feet were my trusty Birkenstocks and a pair of black high top Reeboks I had bought years ago when I hurt my ankle. I had to wear button-up clothes because I couldn’t lift my arm over my head. The port-a-cath hurt, and I was terrified of getting lymphedema, a common side effect, every time I moved my arm. I was so exhausted I could barely get from school to home before I fell asleep. For the first time in years, I was sleeping all night.

Everything I ate tasted like greasy hot metal, and I had to use a plastic fork and spoon. I lost 25 percent of my heart’s ability to pump blood, courtesy of chemotherapy. I thought at least this would enable me to drop the 15 pounds I needed to lose, but steroids in the chemo took care of that. I actually gained weight.

When my blood counts dropped, I had to take a shot that hurt when it went in and burned all the way up my arm. The cost was $2,500 a shot. Some weeks, I had to take a double dose. Thank goodness for “teacher’s insurance.” Chemo was also affecting my short-term memory, which I referred to as “chemonesia.” Unfortunately, this was another common side effect.

At this point, I asked Dr. Rubin for a handicapped sticker and medical marijuana. I felt like I earned both. He just looked at me and rolled his eyes.

The week before Christmas, our color deadline in yearbook was due, but I was much too busy (but no longer important) to come to school. I don’t think I thought about it one time. On Tuesday of that week, I had chemotherapy. Wednesday, I had a heart test. Thursday we went south to Wilmington, and Friday my youngest son graduated from UNC Wilmington. Saturday was a beautiful day at the beach.

My husband and sons left me alone all day and it was wonderful. I was so tired of bravely smiling, without showing my dark brown teeth, and telling everyone I was “just tired.” I took a bubble bath and tried to walk out on the beach. I got so winded I had to come back, but my nice oceanfront suite had a great balcony. I tried to read a trashy novel and felt much better.

New semester — new students — same old tired chemo-infected body. My memory was getting worse. I thought my juniors from first semester were seniors now and kept asking them where they were going to college. I couldn’t remember names and couldn’t focus on yearbook or newspaper deadlines. I couldn’t remember where I put things, and my students realized that if they wanted to find their pages I tried to proof for them, they had to stand there while I read them and take them right back. If I put them down, we’d never find them.

A lot of snow and missed deadlines — only I didn’t seem to be able to get worked up about it. The kids were holding proofs because they thought I needed to see them before they sent them back. It was the middle of January, and we hadn’t met our December color deadline yet. I was too tired to care.

Dr. Riggan, my principal, did everything he could to help me. He changed my planning period for second semester so I could drive 25 miles at 7 a.m. every morning for radiation treatments and then another 30 minutes to school. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes gave me gas coupons and restaurant certificates. I did this for 7-1/2 weeks — still smiling bravely and still not quite caring about deadlines.

Before I started radiation, they had to make a cast of my head and shoulders for me to lie in while l was taking treatments. I asked the nurse what they were going to do with the cast when I was finished.

“Probably throw it away. You want it?

“How much did it cost?” my ever-practical self asked.

“Altogether? About $5,000.”

I took it home because I didn’t know what else to do with it. Our school play this spring was Les Miserables, and my $5,000 contribution was prominently displayed in the barricade.

I asked Dr. Goodchild, my radiation oncologist, for a handicapped sticker and medical marijuana. He smiled and gave me the handicapped sticker. I didn’t tell Dr. Rubin — he’d only roll his eyes again.

By March it was time for another mammogram and doctor’s appointment. Because I didn’t trust mammograms any more, I insisted on an ultra sound as well. I was learning to stand up for myself and to take charge. Thankfully, there was no evidence of cancer in my body at all, and I went from being a patient to being a survivor.

My yearbook students were still selling yearbooks to businesses, and I asked a couple of them to go by the local newspaper office to buy a purple survivor pin. Upon their return, one girl turned to her friend and said, “What does Mrs. Farlow want with a survivor pin? Does she even like that show?” I wore my purple survivor pin every day until I lost it.

The last deadline for the yearbook was in the mid-March, the same week I finished my radiation treatments. I think it was the only deadline we met this year.

I was elected Teacher of the Year for Asheboro High School. Dr. Riggan assured me it was because I was crazy enough to want to come to school as much as possible and still do yearbook and journalism. This was before I had to tell him how late our deadlines were. I still couldn’t concentrate enough to work on them. People kept telling me how strong I was. I didn’t feel strong — just scared. The faculty and staff were exceptionally supportive of me and brought me a lot of treats.

I had a rude awakening when my yearbook rep sent the ship date and price. June 28. June 28? Oops. We graduate on May 31. Hmm. Time to negotiate. Physically, I was getting a little strength back — my hair was slowly growing back. Instead of being brown, it was gray and curly. I had picked out a wig that I thought had been my natural hair color. But as my son Brian so kindly said, “Yeah, mom — 20 years ago.”

I finally got up my nerve to start showing friends my hair. Up until this point, I had on either a wig, hat or turban. I didn’t look like Sinead O’Connor and was self-conscious. I was still swollen and puffy from the chemo. With encouragement from the staff at school, I chose my “unveiling day.”

The Thursday I didn’t wear my wig to school, I had on a cute hat. The entire staff, from administrators to custodians, wore hats to support me. WOW! Now the wig is gone, and the eyelashes are back. Eyebrows are still crooked, but life is good.

But still no yearbook ship date. My yearbook rep renegotiated with me, and we got the yearbook back May 9. It looked great on the outside. The literary magazine looks pretty good, also. Not many mistakes that I could find, which was a good sign. Maybe radiation wasn’t so bad after all.

Just when I thought I could coast till the end of May, the newspaper editors informed me that the last issue of the school newspaper needed to be 24 pages. Where is that medical marijuana when I need it?

The paper looked great — everyone was impressed, even me.

The most common question I am asked is “How did you do it?” I don’t know how I did it. I am not a hero, nor am I a martyr. I was simply too scared not to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I drew strength from my fantastic support group — my husband David, our sons Daniel and Brian, church friends and the most fantastic faculty ever put together in one place.

I could not have gone through this journey without my family, co-workers, church friends and even strangers who wanted to share their own story with me. One woman hesitantly approached me outside the grocery store to comment on my wig. She recognized it as a wig because she had taken hers off recently. We stood in the parking lot and cried together. I never got her name. Immediately after I was diagnosed, my friend Jean came over with advice and hats — she is a five-year survivor. My friend Cookie was the featured speaker at Relay for Life this year. We stood in the lumber section of Lowes Hardware and cried together one afternoon.

Relay for Life was the most incredible experience. To walk around the track while more than a thousand people are clapping is an experience I will never forget. I walked with my friends Jean and Marty, who started out in a wheel chair. She got out and pushed the wheel chair around the track. That is courage.

Recently during the Academic Awards Night at school, I had the honor of presenting a scholarship from the American Cancer Society to a graduating senior who had survived childhood cancer.

Right now, one in eight women will get breast cancer. I was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the immortal words of President Reagan when he got shot, “I forgot to duck.” I am amazed at the number of people who have come to me during this past year to share a cancer story. People across cultures and economic levels are finding themselves united in the fight against this disease.

I love being an adviser. I love everything from the brainstorming to the deadlines. I love the creativity and the computers. I love working with the students. I cannot imagine doing anything else.

I am finishing this article while journalism students are taking their final exam. The yearbook exam was yesterday, and yes, there were a few tears shed. We have selected the editors for next year, arranged the date for senior and underclass pictures and are trying to come up with a theme.

In exactly 35 minutes the school year will be over. Graduation is at high noon tomorrow. It is a beautiful May morning, and I have the whole summer ahead. Yes, my cancer was aggressive. Yes, it has a high recurrence rate. And yes, I still see all my doctors every three months, but right now, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing.

Life is good.

I should have known.

By Sue Farlow


Password Reset
Please enter your email address and press [Return] or [Enter]. You will receive a new password via e-mail.

If you don't receive it within a few minutes, please call (785-532-5532) or email us (staff@jea.org), and we'll be happy to assist you.