Disability Rights Under Attack by Congress

“Everyone is just one bad day away from needing accessible options the #ADA requires to help them get around,” tweeted Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Man in camouflage jacket, using wheelchair in a parking lot, looking on a group of standing people.

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio / February 21, 2018

Rights for Americans with disabilities are under attack in a bill disguised as reform of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, requires people with disabilities to file a formal complaint with the Justice Department if they are denied access to a public place. The business in question has 60 days to acknowledge the complaint and then another 120 days to make “substantial progress” in correcting the ADA violation. They are not during this time required to actually fix the problem.

Only after this six-month period can people with disabilities take legal action — if the business has made no “substantial progress,” a subjective term that means the problem could remain unsolved forever. Businesses are left with no incentive to actually fix the problem — which never should have existed in the first place under the 28-year-old ADA.

No other civil rights statute imposes such requirements. But the House passed the bill 225-192.

Supporters of the bill say it will prevent people from filing frivolous lawsuits against businesses while allowing for a “notice and cure” period.

But defenders of civil rights for people with disabilities say the bill essentially lets businesses off the hook for complying with ADA, which has been in place for nearly three decades — while putting the burden of the real “reform” right on the group whose rights are supposed to be protected.

“The idea that places of public accommodation should receive a free pass for six months before correctly implementing a law that has been a part of our legal framework for nearly three decades creates an obvious disincentive for ADA compliance,” Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island said during debate on the House floor.

Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, lives with the reality of a disability each and every day and has since he was 16 years old — before the ADA was enacted.

“Has the Congress really become so divorced from the human experience of the disability community that we’re willing to sacrifice their rights because it’s easier than targeting the root of the problem? Are people with disabilities, people like me, so easily disregarded?” he said.

Following the vote Langevin said in a statement that “justice delayed is justice denied,” adding that he is “saddened that Congress sent a message to people with disabilities that we are not equal, or worthy of the same civil rights protections as others.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both her legs while serving as an air assault helicopter pilot in Iraq, posted a series of tweets ahead of the House’s passage urging Congress to vote against the measure.

“Ever since I lost my legs when an RPG tore thru the cockpit of my Blackhawk I was flying over Iraq, getting around has been difficult—even w/the #ADA, I can’t always enter public spaces & have to spend a lot of time planning how to get frm 1 place to the next,” she wrote.

“I understand that not everyone thinks about these things because for most of my adult life I didn’t either. But the truth is that everyone is just one bad day away from needing accessible options the #ADA requires to help them get around,” she added. “If you don’t live with a disability, you might not think of #ADA violations as significant at 1st glance, but I assure you they’re significant for those of us who do live with disabilities.”

Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and chair of the board of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), also pointed out the negative impact this bill will have on businesses.

“The more than 57 million Americans with disabilities are an important customer base that businesses cannot afford to lose. Further, inaccessible businesses lose out on an enormous talent pool of employees with disabilities,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill.

“In my work with the National Organization on Disability, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the benefits that leading companies reap from welcoming employees and customers with disabilities. This bill would rob businesses of the customers and the talent they desperately need,” he added.

“’Substantial progress’ is the same as ‘due process’ that was used as an endless stall tactic by the South to avoid legally mandatory desegregation,” said Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc and vice chairman of the board for NOD.

Indeed, according to Nielsen (No. 32 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity), the power of people with disabilities in the consumer market should not be underestimated: “More than one in three households in the U.S. has a person that identifies with a disability, representing spending power that exceeds $1 billion.”

Read on DiversityInc

The House Just Passed a Bill that Limits Arbitration Rights for Architectural Barriers Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

Proponents claim that H.R. 620, called the ADA Education and Reform Act, is intended to strengthen the ADA and give businesses the opportunity to react prior taking legal action.

By KATHARINE KEANE | February 15, 2018

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 225 to 192 to pass H.R. 620, a bill referred to as the ADA Education and Reform Act that—if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president—would change and limit certain rights that were first afforded to disabled people 28 years ago under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Image description: Three buttons with the wheelchair icon. First reads "Sue to operate door." Second reads "Wait to operate door." Third reads "Hope for 'Substantial Progress'."

Per the current ADA rules, those who believe they are being discriminated against by architectural barriers in places of public accommodation—such as grocery stores, doctors offices, recreation facilities, private schools, and homeless shelters—are entitled to file suit for immediate legal intervention. (They can also speak directly with the business or file a complaint with the Department of Justice.) But under H.R. 620, complainants filing suit would first have to deliver a written notice identifying the issue, allow 60 days for the business owner make a plan to address the architectural barrier, and allow an additional 120 days for the business owner to “make substantial progress in removing the barrier.”

While some officials like representative and bill co-sponsor Ted Poe (R-TX-02) believe according to a Jan. 2017 press release, “the integrity of this important law is being threatened … [because] certain attorneys and their pool of serial plaintiffs troll for minor, easily correctable ADA infractions so they can file a lawsuit and make some cash,” others fear that loosening these restrictions deincentivizes business to proactively adhere to ADA regulations.

Former Pennsylvania governor and current chair of the nonprofit the National Organization on Disability Tom Ridge outlined this threat in an article for The Hill: “A business that did not comply would face no consequence until after it received a legal notice from a person with a disability who was harmed, detailing the specific violation of the law,” he writes. “And then the business would have six months to do something about it and would merely be required to make ‘substantial progress’ in removing barriers, instead of actually providing access.”

The American Civil Liberties Union shared similar fears, in a public document, and outlined new loopholes the law would create: “This bill would also effectively change Title III’s requirements from providing access to making ‘substantial progress’ in removing barriers. Progress is not access. Changing the standard under the ADA from access to substantial progress would not only harm the civil rights of people with disabilities but would also increase litigation due to uncertainties about what constitutes ‘substantial progress.’ ”

The bill also calls for the creation of a program to educate state and local governments, as well as business owners on strategies for promoting accessibility to public accommodations to those with disabilities.

Read on Architect Magazine.

Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners Healthcare, Raytheon and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network Commit to Innovative Pilot Program to Connect College Students with Disabilities to Professional Opportunities

Leading employers join universities as part of new effort in Boston led by the National Organization on Disability

BOSTON (February 15, 2018) – Five major Boston-area employers have joined a new pilot program designed by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) to mitigate the recruitment challenges employers are facing in an incredibly competitive talent market with a 3.9% unemployment rate, while reversing the bleak national employment outcomes for college graduates with disabilities. NOD President Carol Glazer today announced that Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network have signed onto the Campus to Careers initiative that aims to place more qualified students with disabilities into meaningful careers and to develop new methods of college recruiting to address the issue long-term.

Campus to Careers is being funded, in part, thanks to the generosity of The Coca-Cola Foundation, which provided a $400,000 lead grant to kick-start the innovative, three-year pilot program.

“While there is a strong accommodations program for students with disabilities on campus, there is less focus on getting these students career-ready and connecting them to employers that welcome and support talent with disabilities,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “The result is that only 25-percent of college graduates with disabilities are working. Increasingly, smart employers like Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network recognize there is a fertile opportunity to secure top talent from this untapped pool.”

The Campus to Careers pilot, starting with the talent needs of organizations such as Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network will develop a recruitment pipeline for employers to reach college students with disabilities from top colleges and universities in Boston and the surrounding areas.

“Making the world a safer place requires that we build a diverse workforce of the best talent, “ said Steve Ratner, Vice President of Human Resources and Security at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems. “This partnership gives Raytheon direct access to highly capable candidates – while supporting our local Massachusetts community.”

“At Partners HealthCare, pairing our work with our mission is very important to us.  Our community represents patients and people from all walks of life and we strive to reflect that synthesis in our workforce. Recognizing the talents and strengths found in the candidate pool of people with disabilities is one of our business imperatives,” said Oz Mondejar, Vice President, Talent Acquisition at Partners HealthCare. “We are proud to be one of the founding employer partners with Campus to Careers and recognize that our role is to create and promote access to opportunities for candidates of all abilities.”

To design and implement the Campus to Careers pilot, NOD partnered with Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) an organization that has worked for 17 years to connect such college students and graduates with employers, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Work Without Limits (WWL) initiative, a Massachusetts consortium of employers dedicated to strengthening disability workforce inclusion practices.

Campus to Careers’ college and university partners include:

  • Brandeis University
  • College of the Holy Cross
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Massachusetts Boston
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Westfield State University
  • Worcester State University

“Employers are eager to hire graduates of all abilities from Boston’s rich ecosystem of higher-ed institutions,” said Kathleen Petkauskos, Director, UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits. “By better connecting colleges’ disability and career services offices, we’re introducing hiring employers to qualified talent with disabilities, who previously may have been overlooked. Campus to Careers will forge an effective model to sustain recruitment pipelines to qualified candidates with disabilities on campus.”

For 35 years, NOD has worked with leading employers and partnered with educational and philanthropic institutions to pilot innovative approaches to disability inclusion, scaling effective models for broader impact. NOD has helped dozens of major employers hire individuals with disabilities based on its proven suite of Professional Services – a demand-driven approach to filling positions.

Become a Campus to Careers Employer:

In addition to gaining access to quality talent with disabilities on campus, the Campus to Careers project team will work with participating employers to fine-tune recruitment and hiring practices to more effectively reach students and graduates with disabilities. As well, employers will gain new and enhanced relationships with local campus disability and career services offices. Participating employers also receive broad recognition for their commitment to disability inclusive hiring.

Employers interested in joining the Campus to Careers program, can contact campus2careers@NOD.org to learn more.

Thirteen Companies Joined the NOD Corporate Leadership Council in 2017

NOD Business Partners Distinguish Themselves as Leaders in Disability Employment

White text on blue background reads: "Welcome to the NOD Corporate Leadership Council." New member logos appear on white background. NOD logo at bottom left. NOD.org at bottom right.

NEW YORK (Feb. 13, 2018):  Thirteen companies from across the United States joined the National Organization on Disability (NOD) Corporate Leadership Council last year. Council members support NOD’s mission to expand meaningful employment opportunities for the 24 million worked-aged Americans with disabilities who are not employed, by committing to advance disability inclusion efforts in their workplaces. These prominent brands unite with 40 other current business partners in the Council bringing the total membership to nearly 55 top businesses, says NOD President Carol Glazer.

The Corporate Leadership Council provides an opportunity for national and global business leaders to learn from NOD’s experts and fellow peers about common challenges and leading practices in disability employment – and to be recognized for their commitment to disability inclusion. Members gain national visibility and brand recognition as leaders in diversity and employers of choice for people with disabilities.

“I am proud to announce that more than 50 companies from across the country call themselves partners in advancing disability employment by having joined the NOD Corporate Leadership Council,” Glazer said. “These companies recognize the value of disability inclusion. Now more than ever our success in a global economy depends on how well we inspire and put to use the talents and energies of every person in this country.”

New members in 2017 joined at both the President’s Circle and Corporate Circle levels:

President’s Circle

  • Charter Communications
  • Christiana Care Health System
  • eSSENTIAL Accessibility

Corporate Circle

  • AbbVie
  • AmeriHealth Caritas
  • Barclays
  • CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
  • Cozen O’Connor
  • Huntington Bank
  • National Grid
  • New York Life Insurance Company
  • Sutter Health
  • Target

Glazer noted a myriad of benefits for businesses in the Corporate Leadership Council including, but not limited to:

  • Recognition of corporate commitment to disability employment, reinforcing your brand as a diversity leader and employer of choice for job candidates with disabilities
  • Invitations to exclusive, in-person, disability employment events, including NOD’s Annual Forum and networking luncheons
  • Opportunities to be featured in premier disability events, conferences and learning forums
  • Access to a year-long agenda of webinars, tailored to topics of particular interest to members
  • Special pricing on selected NOD Professional Services, including our Disability Inclusion Accelerator™
  • A dedicated Relationship Manager as your liaison to discuss your goals, connect you to NOD resources, and have your interests inform future NOD programming

Learn more about becoming a NOD Corporate Leadership Council.

Rolling back the civil rights of the disabled harms us all

Protestors in wheelchairs at an outdoor rally. Woman holds sign reading "It's a Civil Right"


When President George H.W. Bush signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law nearly 28 years ago, he eloquently declared, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion come tumbling down.” That was a watershed moment for our country. After decades of willful exclusion and benign neglect, people with disabilities finally secured the civil rights they deserved to be full participants in our great society.

President Bush observed that the disabilities law would:

“Ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

Those guarantees are now at risk. The House of Representatives will soon vote on H.R. 620, labeled the “ADA Education and Reform Act.” This bill could significantly reduce access for people with disabilities to stores, restaurants, hotels, doctors’ offices, social service establishments, private schools, and other places of public accommodation. In so doing, it would put a damper on opportunities for people with disabilities to participate as full and equal members of society.

The ADA, which passed in 1990 with overwhelming bipartisan support, was carefully crafted to balance the concerns of businesses with the need to ensure access for people with disabilities. It did not require costly retrofitting of buildings built before the ADA; businesses were required to remove barriers in those buildings where that could be done without significant difficulty or expense. But the law contemplated that businesses that could easily remove barriers would do so. They would be accessible when people with disabilities showed up at the door, to shop, to obtain services, and to work. If H.R. 620 were to pass, many more people with disabilities would encounter barriers when they showed up and getting in would require a long and arduous process.

That’s because H.R. 620 would eliminate any incentive for businesses to comply with the ADA proactively. A business that did not comply would face no consequence until after it received a legal notice from a person with a disability who was harmed, detailing the specific violation of the law. And then the business would have six months to do something about it and would merely be required to make “substantial progress” in removing barriers, instead of actually providing access.

Twenty-eight years after the ADA was passed, it is unacceptable to roll back the civil rights of people with disabilities. We should ensure access, not progress. We should expect businesses to know and comply with their obligations, not require our neighbors and colleagues with disabilities to shoulder the burden of informing and educating businesses about those obligations. We should not turn the simple business of everyday life into a complex and lengthy ordeal for people with disabilities.

H.R. 620 is also bad for business. The more than 57 million Americans with disabilities are an important customer base that businesses cannot afford to lose. Further, inaccessible businesses lose out on an enormous talent pool of employees with disabilities.

In my work with the National Organization on Disability, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the benefits that leading companies reap from welcoming employees and customers with disabilities. This bill would rob businesses of the customers and the talent they desperately need,

Back in 1990, President Bush told the business community they hold in their hands the key to the success of the ADA, for it can “unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when freed, will enrich us all.” He characterized passage of the ADA as one of his proudest achievements. Let’s not undo that success.

Tom Ridge is founder and chairman of Ridge Global, as well as chair of the National Organization on Disability, a position he has held since 2006. He was America’s first secretary of Homeland Security and the 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania.

Read on TheHill.com

Five Questions with Innovator Douglas Conant of ConantLeadership

Doug Conant posing with a female business woman at an NOD conference

Douglas Conant is an internationally renowned business leader, New York Times bestselling author, and social media influencer with over 40 years of experience at world-class global companies. For the past 20 years, he has honed his leadership craft at the most senior levels – first as President of the Nabisco Foods Company, then as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and finally as Chairman of Avon Products. In 2011, he founded ConantLeadership: a mission-driven company championing leadership that works in the 21st century.

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) recently sat down with Doug to find out what drives his passion for leadership, the future of talent, and why companies should embrace people with disabilities in the workplace.

1. In your prior role as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, you’re largely credited for helping to turn the company around. What was the most difficult part of revitalizing the culture of a 119-year-old global brand?

When I got to Campbell I found a very dispirited group of people. I recognized early on that getting them engaged in the transformation process in an earnest way was job one. So in the first hour, the first day I was there I said, “We can’t expect to win in the marketplace until we’re winning in the workplace… That means employee engagement is job one.” We appointed our first ever chief inclusion officer and gave her a prominent place at the table. We started to create our first employee resource groups and embarked on a complete transformation effort around diversity and inclusion.  The organization responded well to all of these efforts and went on to have one of the best employee engagement levels in the Fortune 500. By 2010, the Gallup Employee Engagement Index showed that for every 17 engaged employees, only one was disengaged, a ratio that exceeded Gallup’s “world-class” benchmark of 12:1.

Transforming a company is a heavy lift, and it’s done by people. You have to capture the hearts, minds, and spirit of an organization and get everyone enrolled in the process of transformation.

 2. In 2011 you founded ConantLeadership, a company dedicated to providing leaders with high-impact tools and programs, such as ConantLeadership Boot Camp, to help them succeed. What ignited your passion for leadership?

When I retired in 2011, I founded ConantLeadership. I can’t reach everyone, but I can influence how leaders lead. And they can lead with a more abundant mentality, which is about creating highly engaged situations where all people can thrive.

We’re promoting inspired leadership that can make a difference in the 21st century—around getting people engaged, creating opportunities for more people. My own personal time is devoted to NOD, to Catalyst, and to several other diversity and inclusion efforts, as we try to raise the tide for all ships, not just some of the ships. It’s very fulfilling work for me, but it’s natural too. It’s a natural evolution of my engagement philosophy and my diversity and inclusion philosophy.

I was once asked, “Do you want your daughter to be going into the kind of world that you came into? Doesn’t she deserve better?” And I had never thought about it on a personal level. I always thought of it as the right thing to do. By making it personal it motivated me to kick it another gear. I have been trying to do that for the last decade.

 3. Companies including PwC, EY, REI, and others have shown that employees with disabilities contribute to bottom-line performance. How can CEOs help to remove the barriers that people with disabilities face when it comes to employment?

There’s all kinds of evidence that embracing diversity and inclusion can improve bottom-line performance. I think it has to be smartly led, in a top down way, just like other diversity and inclusion efforts. The people in the organization need to know it’s on the agenda, at the top of the house. There needs to be some tangible examples of where that is happening.

CEOs can be vigilantly challenging the organization to find people with disabilities who can contribute at the highest levels in their company. When I created the first ever diversity and inclusion head at Campbell, it sent the signal to the whole organization that things were going to change. If I was still a CEO, I would be looking for an opportunity to create room for people with disabilities who can contribute at senior levels.

Secondly, if you are leading an organization, measurement is critical. That’s why tools like NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker™ are so critical. You can’t manage it, if you can’t measure it. When I emphasized employee engagement, we wanted to measure it. When we emphasize diversity and inclusion, we have ways of measuring it. We track representation in various jobs, but we also track other things that are important—making sure you had a diverse slate of candidates for every job you interviewed for and things like that. So measurement is critical.

4. You joined the NOD board of directors in 2011. What drew you to this issue?

I joined in 2011 at the recommendation of some folks who knew the founding board members, who thought I could contribute, given my passion for the subject and personal and professional commitment to it. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of.

Personally, I was blessed to be a healthy, vital person, and then I had a near-fatal car accident in 2009 that was life-changing. For the first time, I viscerally understood what it was like to have to think about getting the work done in a different way. I empathized with people with disabilities in a way that you can only empathize with them when you have a disability yourself. I gained a deeper level of understanding and empathy for the challenges people with disabilities face. I think that was probably the most important lesson I learned from that experience. I look at the world completely differently now as a result of that. Every day, every interaction, I notice the people who have to find a different way to do it. I just see the world differently today.

5. What excites you about the future of work and talent?

I believe people want to live in an abundant world where anybody can do anything, and they feel as though it’s possible—it’s the American dream. Bringing that dream to life in a very diverse and inclusive way, I can’t think of a more worthwhile place to devote your effort. I’m seeing successes every day. Whether it’s at JPMorgan Chase or in the distribution centers at Lowe’s or Toys“R”Us. There’s so much good work being done, and I’ve got to believe it’s going to get better in the days ahead. William Browning said: “Grow old along with me for the best it yet to be.” I would take the old out. I would say “grow along with me, the best is yet to be.” I really believe it. I see disability inclusion and diverse hiring practices maturing. I see it gaining strength, and I’m proud to be a part of it.