Mary Troupe, executive director of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said businesses should not be concerned about the stronger Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) that went into effect Jan. 1.
“A lot of employees are still very hesitant about hiring people with disabilities,” Troupe said.“We need to be hiring more individuals who have disabilities. It has been proven that people with disabilities are extremely loyal workers. In this day and time, more people are living longer and more have age-acquired disabilities. There are more and more people with disabilities.”
Mississippi has an estimated 600,000 people with disabilities living in the community, representing one in five people in the state. That number doesn’t count people in hospitals and nursing homes. Putting disabled people to work benefits not only the individual and his or her family, but also society by having someone doing a useful job while reducing the amount paid in government disability benefits.
“When someone is injured and acquires disabilities or is born with one, we cannot throw away these people,” Troupe said. “These are people with talents who are educated, loyal and want to work. We as a community and state need to be looking at more ways to make sure these individuals stay in the workforce. We have one of the largest populations of people with disabilities getting benefits from the state and federal government. That wouldn’t have to be if employers would accept people with disabilities still have worth, abilities and talents.”
Often handicapped people only need some type of accommodations in order to work. In most cases, the accommodations needed are inexpensive and small. There are tax incentives for providing the accommodations. And the disabled make ideal “telecommuters” working from home offices.
“There is no reason for businesses not to seriously consider hiring more individuals with disabilities,” Troupe said. “It helps the community all the way around.”
Troupe said many people are not aware exactly what the ADA law requires, and look on it as being an albatross around the necks of businesses, when it really is not. There are many parts of ADA that business owners don’t understand. There are things in the ADA that are very business friendly. For example, an individual or company that hires someone with disabilities can get tax incentives.
ADA also covers issues such as making buildings and public restrooms handicapped assessable. Troupe still sees new developments that have not followed basic laws like having one handicapped space for every 25 parking spaces, and having cuts in the curb so someone in a wheelchair can get up on the sidewalk and into buildings.
Troupe said the ADA amendment actually gives more time for compliance with handicapped access. But she finds it troubling that 18 years after the law was passed, some architecture firms aren’t putting specifications in their designs to properly accommodate the handicapped.
“One thing we hope will come out of the new amendment is that the architectural community will really look at ADA now and put ADA specifications into their designs for malls, churches and so forth,” she said. “We still find many times architecture companies aren’t that aware of the exact requirements of the ADA and why they are there.”
Help is available from the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, which offers free services from a technician who will do site visits and provide ADA specifications.
“We did this for many of the casinos in the state and for other businesses in the state,” Troupe said. “We want to do as much as we can to make businesses and the whole community accessible to everyone. All ramps are not created equally. Some people think any kind of ramp is adequate. That is not true. The ADA has specification. Those specifications should be followed. It allows someone to go up and down a ramp independently without turning over. ADA specs have been studied, stood the test of time, and make life so much easier with people with disabilities.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.