March 2005 Vol. 10 Issue 1
Disability statements ensure all feel welcome

“As an organization, we should endorse the idea that anyone who wants to come to our meetings should be able to,” says Tom Jordan, Purdue Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources Program Leader.

For Jordan , this commitment to inclusiveness is the best reason to include disability statements on materials announcing Purdue Extension events like workshops or field days.

For example, Purdue AgComm recommends adding this statement to event announcements:

“If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, prior to the meeting, contact PERSON'S NAME at (XXX) XXX-XXXX or (888) EXT-INFO.”

Of course, these statements are also legally required. By including them, Purdue Extension offices are complying with federal regulations established in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Sometimes referred to by this law's name, practical ADA statements (like the example above) should include three important components making it clear that:

  1. The accommodation must be reasonable.
  2. The individual requesting an accommodation should do so before the event.
  3. An event organizer is available to handle accommodation requests.

Reasonable requests for accommodation

A request is reasonable when the event's organizers are able to do something to help. For example, if a person uses a wheelchair, it probably is not reasonable to expect event organizers to build a device to lower that person into a deep, narrow pit to examine soils. It is reasonable, however, to arrange to have a person who can climb into the pit to describe the soils to the individual in the wheelchair.

Making accommodations in advance

Asking that individuals request accommodations before an event just makes sense, Jordan says. Minutes before an event's start is not the time to find a sign language interpreter for a person who cannot hear.

But if the event's announcement is missing an ADA statement, would-be participants have no way to request accommodations until the day of the event, and they can reasonably ask for accommodations that day.

Being available to help

In the sample ADA statement above, there are spaces to include an organizer's name and a telephone number where he or she can be reached. This is the best way to get help to those who need it because organizers can explain an event's details to individuals and discuss what can be done, Jordan says.

“If I'm holding the meeting, then why would I want people calling somebody who doesn't know anything about it?” Jordan asks. A meeting's facilitator, or somebody who works closely with the facilitator (like a secretary) is the most appropriate person to talk to about making accommodations, since the facilitator is the one who can directly help.

“We want to ensure that everybody feels welcome at our events,” Jordan says.

Making everyone feel welcome should not be limited to ADA statements, says Gavin Steiger, Assistant Director for Compliance and Disability Services at Purdue University . Feeling welcome also involves showing respect. For example, when working with people who have disabilities, Steiger recommends using a person-first approach.

A person-first approach means referring to a person with a disability as a person first, not as a disability. “So, you have a person who is deaf, not a deaf person,” says Steiger. This emphasis may seem minor, but can go a long way toward demonstrating respect, he says.

Other resources

Visit the Purdue Affirmative Action Office Web site for more helpful information, including a “Disability Etiquette Handbook.”

 

Kevin Leigh Smith, kevlsmith@purdue.edu

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