You're Gonna Carry That Weight
February 8, 2016 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Like to apply for the position of the head of an organization dedicated to advocating for the disabled? Better not be disabled yourself.

Many jobs have physical requirements that not only seem not or tangentially related to the job, but effectively exclude the same sort of people that they intend to serve:
the employee is “occasionally required to stand; walk; climb or balance; stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and taste or smell,” as well as “frequently lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds.” And “Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, distance vision, color vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, and the ability to adjust focus.”
It should be noted that the organization first cited in the article, the Arc of Texas, has changed their job requirements to be more appropriate to their mission, and thanks the author of the article for the call-out. There are, of course, plenty of other examples in the Al-Jazeera America article.
posted by Halloween Jack (16 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being that I am a cynic, I am nearly sure I'm right about this, but maybe an actual lawyer should chime in. But I gotta figure the process is something like this:

1) ADA requires you to make reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, such as building ramps, widening doorways, adding handrails, etc.
2) ADA also allows exemptions if job has essential requirements which make unsuitable for person with disabilities, eg truck drivers must have good vision, ditch diggers gotta be able to lift heavy stuff
3) ramps, handrails, and doorways cost money
4) thus we say an essential requirement of teaching French is being able to carry heavy shit
5) then we can't be sued for not hiring a disabled person and don't have to spend money accommodating them

Liability law slithering 101, sounds like.
posted by Diablevert at 9:16 AM on February 8, 2016 [23 favorites]


From my experience, Diablevert is right on the money. I'm kind of a stealth disabled person - I can do most functions of my job. But every single time I've asked for even the smallest accommodation - we're talking 'move desk' in one instance - they have pulled up those "essential" lists and thrown them at me. "Hmm, if we put this through to HR, we'd have to look at this..." And in one case, I was fired a bare 2 days after submitting the doctors support for accommodation.
posted by corb at 9:25 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I expected the apology to be more mealy-mouthed, but I was actually kind of impressed:
We have looked into how this happened, and have learned that the job requirements that were wrongfully included in our postings were left over from when we employed drivers for our household recycling program. The CEO job description that was recently approved by our Board of Directors did not include the exclusionary language as shown in the job posting.

Thankfully, being perfect isn’t a requirement to be an advocate, but owning your missteps and using them to promote progress is. That is why we have fixed the mistake and are working internally and with coalition partners to ensure it will never happen again.
"Thankfully, being perfect isn’t a requirement to be an advocate, but owning your missteps and using them to promote progress is" is a pretty useful quote, actually.

Also, "administrative cut and paste/HTML error" is exactly what I assume most of these requirements are-- no one tells HR to take the language out, so they never do, and on and on. So one instance of compliance ("we need someone to lift heavy boxes in this particular Facilities Maintenance position, so use the 25 lb boilerplate") turns into institution-wide ADA violation because no one is paying attention.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:34 AM on February 8, 2016 [23 favorites]


That's exactly what I thought when I saw this. Job descriptions are basically nonsense that no one in an org is paying attention to. This also results in women excluding themselves from jobs that they could totally do if the description was at all accurate.
posted by bleep at 9:52 AM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


On the one hand, nobody is perfect, and I can totally see how this could have been a cut-and-paste error. On the other hand, if people are routinely making cut-and-paste errors on job descriptions that tell people with disabilities that they shouldn't bother applying, that's kind of a big-ass deal that shouldn't be written off as a benign oversight. That needs to not happen.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I would really like to think that an organization dedicated to helping disabled people would look to hire, if possible, the disabled. Can special consideration be legally given in those situations?
posted by maxwelton at 10:34 AM on February 8, 2016


kind of a big-ass deal that shouldn't be written off as a benign oversight

I definitely don't think it is remotely benign. Just more of the banality of evil-- someone forgot to tell someone else to take it out, and no one on the Board looks at the final posting, and then someone quits in HR and the next person thinks it is just how things are done, etc. End result: illegal discrimination that makes lives worse, toxic culture of ableism, a poisoned status quo.

"Just doing it how it's always been done" is rarely explicitly malicious, but it is responsible for an enormous amount of suffering.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:36 AM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


(AandC is right on. I mean, don't these organizations look around their offices and go "you know, for a group dedicated to helping the disabled, we don't seem to actually have any disabled people working here"?)
posted by maxwelton at 10:36 AM on February 8, 2016


I ran into this accidentally once.

I was writing descriptions for some newly created job titles at a company I worked for, so HR sent me some job requirement forms to fill out with several pre-filled physical requirements that were checked off by default. LIfting up to 25 pounds, seeing, hearing, etc. So I went through and dutifully unchecked anything that was not applicable and sent them back to HR, who sent it back to me with all those things re-checked. We had several go-arounds with it, including me explaining to the HR director how disabled people were able to use computers and IIRC, actually volunteering to assist in evacuating any potential hires in the event of a fire, before I even brought up the ADA and they told me that they would stop autochecking the boxes in the future.

But I don't believe them, because the same company also fought tooth and nail against making the website accessible. None of those things made actual business sense. They were opening themselves up to discrimination suits, not protecting themselves. They were just straight up bigots.

Also on a related note, Autism Speaks is well known for discriminating against autistic people.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:47 AM on February 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


The Arc, for what it's worth, provides services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It used to be called the Association for Retarded Citizens but then changed its name to the Arc for obvious reasons. My family has had lots of dealings with them, because I have a relative with an intellectual disability, and I have a perfectly good impression of them, but they aren't coming from a perspective that assumes that the people they're serving are necessarily going to be represented in the organization's leadership. That's problematic from a disability rights standpoint but may be hard to get around because of the population they serve. At any rate, this job description was discriminatory against people with a lot of different disabilities, and one would like to think that a disability-related organization would be especially attuned to that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:55 AM on February 8, 2016


women excluding themselves from jobs they could totally do

Why? The 25-pound thing? That's about how much an average two-year-old weighs.
posted by scratch at 11:47 AM on February 8, 2016


No I was referring to the generally observed pattern of job descriptions containing wildly inaccurate requirements, describing a job only several superhumans could accomplish. Women see those and think "I can't do that - I am not several superhumans" and don't apply. Men see it and think "Sure, I can do whatever I want". This happens because there's usually a wide gulf between who is writing the ad and who knows what the job needs and mostly no one cares what goes in the ad. Interviewers think their short-term timeframe is the only thing that matters and they only have time to interview superhumans anyway. This case seems like it fits that pattern with the added bonus of excluding another group of traditionally marginalized people and targeting them for exclusion explicitly.

At least where I used to work they had a focus on diverse hiring and had written up a bunch of guidelines to avoid the above.
posted by bleep at 12:02 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


At any rate, this job description was discriminatory against people with a lot of different disabilities, and one would like to think that a disability-related organization would be especially attuned to that.

Now all this is also to say that people with disabilities shouldn't be ghettoized into working for these organizations, either, but given their mandates, they shouldn't make such rookie mistakes around things like ADA-required language in job postings, but...

In some cases, you'd be surprised. I frequently am (non-ADA jurisdiction here, FWIW).

Well, no longer surprised as sadly resigned. My husband is blind and works in accessibility, and over his career he has applied to many organizations, both NGOs and government departments (and private companies), whose mandate is specifically accessibility, or a job that is specifically about it.

You'd think for a job in the field of disability or accessibility this would be a net plus, right? You have personal experience, skin in the game, yadda yadda. Doesn't work out that way a lot of the time.

There's a whole dance about do-you-disclose-your-disability or do-you-not-disclose-your-disability ahead of an in-person interview that goes beyond what appears in the posting itself.

There's a risk there, though, because, quel surprise, when he taps his way into an interview. But it also means he avoided the risk of not getting the interview by self-disclosing earlier so they have to deal with him as a person talking about how qualified he is vs. being dismissed on paper.

That said, for someone who is Deaf, or someone who has a CP accent, an initial phone interview with HR or the hiring manager would involve automatic disclosure. And if you need an ASL interpreter for an in-person interview, you're gonna have to disclose, or if you're a wheelchair user, you'll need to inquire about the physical accessibility of the office.

And heaven help you if you disclose a learning disability that requires some accommodation around any testing that's part of the application process.

But because it's the place where discrimination can happen in a way that's not committed to writing ("We've decided to go with a more qualified candidate..." "We're no longer hiring for the position..." "Thanks for your interest but..." "Not a good fit..." or you just DON'T HEAR BACK), it's way harder to prove.

Even when you KNOW that's what happened.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:58 PM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think the ARC seriously made a mistake from this, mostly on not having looked at the actual job duties. That is a shame, shame, shame for a disability organization.

I also work for a disabilty organization. My past and current co-workers who did a great job include a person in a wheelchair, one who stuttered, one who has 20/200 vision and needs screen readers or large print, one with a post-tumor brain difficulty who needed extra time to process, one with Asperger's syndrome, and one with speech difficulties that could make him hard to understand until you slowed down your listening.

We all made it work, very well. Our job duties could easily be summarized as:

Know your stuff.
Do public presentations.
Speak plainly and politely.
Drive 20,000 miles per year.

That description would also work for the Texas ARC and most jobs. Having a disability that keeps you from lifting 25 pounds doesn't rule you out.
posted by ITravelMontana at 3:50 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


"But every single time I've asked for even the smallest accommodation - we're talking 'move desk' in one instance - they have pulled up those "essential" lists and thrown them at me. "Hmm, if we put this through to HR, we'd have to look at this..." And in one case, I was fired a bare 2 days after submitting the doctors support for accommodation."

Oh man, one of my coworkers is starting to have arm pain and the sheer amount of hoops and drama that are going on in order to get her a new mouse and ergonomic eval.... I am actually kinda worried for her with regards to causing "too much trouble" even though our org probably wouldn't go that far.

" Women see those and think "I can't do that - I am not several superhumans" and don't apply. Men see it and think "Sure, I can do whatever I want". This happens because there's usually a wide gulf between who is writing the ad and who knows what the job needs and mostly no one cares what goes in the ad. "


Well, men are more likely to get hired than women are, so women need to be more perfect in order to get hired. Plus my industry won't even hire you unless you meet 100% of the requirements now--it was probably a miracle I got in when I did, but now I can't get out into anything better. Also, when I do get interviewed I'm getting random questions out of bloody nowhere that have nothing to do with the job listing I read or the better job listing (which is supposed to be the "official" one) they sent me when I got the interview. "Tell me about your experience with unicorn wranging." Uh....I've never seen any unicorns, much less wrangled any, and what does that have to do with this job? And then I don't get hired for my lack of unicorn wrangling, and had I but known that's what they wanted, I would have not applied.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:24 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, men are more likely to get hired than women are, so women need to be more perfect in order to get hired.

True. But throw a visible disability into the mix, and it's going to be whole lot harder. Layer on gender and race, even worse. Then throw in an invisible disability and things get worse by order of magnitude vs. a visible one.

Disclosing a mental illness off the bat and using that to illustrate how good you are at managing a difficult situation? Forget about it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:00 PM on February 8, 2016


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