Story by Yesenia Gonzalez, Co-Editor
Legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities was limited prior to 1990, when former president George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Dis- abilities Act into law. Prior to the ADA, legal rights of Americans with disabilities were limited, as well as accommodations in pub- lic and private spaces. The ADA made it illegal for employers to discriminate against people with disabilities. Since then, accessibility has improved and equal opportunities for employment now.
On college campuses across the country, students can visit student access services to arrange accessibility. Students can file paperwork and receive services to aid in their education for a variety of disabilities, including learning disabilities and for mental illnesses and disorders. According to Director of Special Services Dr. Joanne Stafford, although college students may request accommodations, one of the key differences between public schools and institutions of higher education is that students may have an individualized education program (IEP) in their public school where they receive a modified curriculum.
“A college student is expected to meet the essential components of every course,” Stafford said. “So, that is defined primarily by the instructor but it’s pretty evident that it’s important for students to do the same work that all student do.”
Accommodations are used to ensure equality so that each student has a baseline level of opportunity to succeed. According to the amended version of the ADA, students must be provided with reasonable accommodation which lowers barriers for students with disabilities. Rose State offers services such as adaptive listening devices, text- books in alternate formats, assistive software and accessible parking.
The Human Resources office is another campus resource where students can file discrimination and sexual harassment com- plaints. Employees in the human resources department receive training to better assist students with disabilities.
“A section of our Grievance Procedures explains the complaint process, and within that process, the procedures detail the level of training and experience one must have to review, handle, investigate or adjudicate a complaint of sexual harassment,” Senior Director of Human Resources Bertie Nutter said. “Those individuals comprise the College’s Title IX team, and include our Deputy Coordinators, investigators and advocates. Since research suggests people with disabilities are among the populations who may underreport or be underserved when incidents of sexual harassment occur, our formal annual training includes modules addressing the considerations of the ADA accommodation needs of parties in a sexual harassment complaint; whether those parties be the complainants, respondents or witnesses. We also have local organic quarterly meetings which feature special emphasis exercises, including ADA scenarios.”
The ADA is a fairly recent civil rights law and has undergone revisions. In 2008, former president George H.W. Bush signed amendments to the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act overturned Supreme Court decisions which limited the extent that an impairment could be considered a disability. Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The amended ADA kept the ADA’s definition of disability but the overturned Supreme Court rulings because they defined disabilities too narrowly and limited which individuals could receive accommodations.
Life before the ADA excluded people with disabilities from participating in public life. Places like parks and museums were largely inaccessible for people with wheelchairs; public and private transportation did not take into account those with limited mobility or vision impairments; people with disabilities were routinely sterilized without their consent. Children with intellectual disabilities did not have access to specialized curriculum in public schools. Many US cities enacted so-called “ugly laws” which prohibited people considered unsightly from being out in public spaces. In fact, Chicago was the last US city to repeal such a law in 1974. Now, the ADA continues to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
“Disability law as a whole is relatively young,” Nutter said. “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first federal law to suggest disability as a protected class, and the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) expanded those protections to include the private sector. More than 25 years elapsed between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADA. Disability Law has continued to evolve. For example, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended by President Clinton in 1998 and the ADA was amended by President George W. Bush in 2008. Based on the number of emotional support and service animal incidents in recent years, another amendment may be on the horizon.”
Last year, American Airlines refused to allow a woman to board a plane with her emotional support peacock. Emotional support animals, therapy animals and service animals are not one and the same. An individual can obtain an evaluation from their doctor or therapist stating that their pet is an emotional support animal. This means that a landlord cannot refuse to rent a home for that person if pets are prohibited on the property. However, emotional support animals do not undergo training to assist their owners as a service dog or service miniature horse would, for those who have dog allergies.
“What I say is, [service animals are] an extension of that person,” Stafford explained. “And just like you wouldn’t come up to me and [start pawing my ear], it’s performing a service for me. It’s part of my body, don’t touch me with- out my permission. A service animal is performing an essential function for their owner and we are not to distract them or touch them because that’s the law. They’re at work.”
Rose State has its own therapy dog; Carly, a soon-to-be three-year-old Bichon Frise. Unlike service animals, other people can interact with a therapy dog and are free to pet them while on duty.
“She knows when she’s at school, with me, she’s working. And her job is, what I say, a therapy animal is kind of like a thermostat in a room. It’s to make the room feel more comfortable. And that’s the purpose of a therapy dog, to make the person, the environment feel more comfortable.”
Civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s paved the way for legislation that exists today. The ADA gave millions of Americans legal rights to equal opportunities, particularly for employment. Disability law is still evolving and changes may be in the horizon.
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