By Diane Z., Disability Blog, April 11, 2011
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) regulations to implement the equal employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) went into effect on March 25th. These regulations make it easier for people with disabilities, including mental and psychiatric disabilities, to establish that they are entitled to the ADA's protections.
On March 15th, the EEOC held a hearing on the employment of individuals with mental disabilities. During the meeting, both experts in the field and people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities testified before the Commission.
The hearing began with a discussion of the employment rates of people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities, the barriers that have caused these employment rates to be so low and strategies for overcoming these barriers.
According to the witnesses at the hearing, the employment rate for individuals with intellectual, mental and psychiatric disabilities is extremely low compared to the employment rate of the general population, and about half the employment rate of people with other types of disabilities, even though the desire of these individuals to work is overwhelming.
Several experts on the subject testified before the Commission, including:
These witnesses testified that the barriers to employment for individuals with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities include, among others, attitudinal barriers (including myths and stereotypes about these individuals’ ability to work), fear of losing benefits, low expectations of service system professionals and inadequate supports. They pointed out that most of the barriers have little to do with individuals’ disabilities themselves, that overcoming these barriers is largely a matter of commitment and flexibility and that accommodating individuals with disabilities often results in improvements for all employees.
The Commission then heard testimony about what the ADA obligates employers and states to do with regard to individuals with mental disabilities, the challenges individuals with mental disabilities face in the workplace and why it makes good business sense to employ people with disabilities. Speakers on this topic were:
Later, Markus Penzel, EEOC senior trial attorney and Donna Malone, plaintiff, EEOC v. Land Air Express, discussed litigation to enforce the rights of people with mental disabilities.
One of the most common stereotypes of people with psychiatric disabilities is that many of them are violent – something that is not true, according to psychologist Dr. Gary R. Bond of the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center of Dartmouth Medical School. In his testimony, he stated, “…violence is exceedingly rare among people with mental illness . . . [and] being employed significantly reduces the possibility of violence even further.”
Several speakers who testified at the hearing mentioned the positive impact employment can have on people with mental disabilities. Donna Malone, a person with a psychiatric disability, testified that, “…working hard was a way that I could feel good about myself and no one could take it away.” Anupa Iyer, who testified about the role that work played in her recovery from a psychiatric disability that had led to repeated hospitalizations, stated that, “my work gives my life meaning. It shows me that anything is possible, that I am capable and that I have a right to dream and dream big.”
According to Commissioner Chai Feldblum, “our witnesses brought home the fact that people with mental disabilities can work, and want to work, just like everyone else. And it’s a win-win situation when employers figure out how to tap that work potential.”
To read the transcripts of the hearing and watch a video of the proceedings, visit the EEOC website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/3-15-11/index.cfm.