Mannington Mills is an international company that makes fine floor tiles with several plants, including one in Madison, Georgia. In March of 2020, an employee started feeling poorly, went to the hospital and tested positive for Covid19. The HR department at Mannington then started to interview people regarding possible close contacts. That’s when things got interesting.
One of the people interviewed was the gentleman’s sister, who also worked at Mannington. They asked her if she had visited his work station during his last shift, and she said no. They then asked her if she had any other close contacts with him, and again she said no. The next day, however, HR called her and said a few witnesses had seen her talking with her brother for several minutes, while he sat in the car and she stood just outside the open window.
She claimed she forgot about that conversation and apologized and was subsequently sent home to quarantine for 14 days. She claimed in later court filings this action made her feel “diseased and discarded” which, if nothing else, is an excellent use of alliteration. The following day, HR called her and told her they felt she had been dishonest with them regarding the conversation, rather than the innocent forgetting she professed. One day later she was fired from Mannington Mills.
The woman sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming she was fired because she was the sister of someone who had tested positive for Covid19. Remember, this case originated in March of 2020, when people were on edge about Covid and so much was unknown. Even given that, her claims seem legally dubious.
The ADA was passed during the heights of the AIDS epidemic in our country. It was an unknown disease, and a scary one. There was a powerful social stigma associated with having AIDS and, in the early stages of the epidemic, there was no cure or effective treatment. People weren’t just being fired for having AIDS – they were, in some cases, being fired because the employer THOUGHT they MIGHT have AIDS. In this scenario, the ADA covers them if they are perceived to have the disability (even if they do not) and face discrimination based on that assumption.
I don’t think that argument applies here. Covid19 is indeed serious. Approximately 1.6% of the people in Georgia who tested positive for Covid ended up dying of it. But for the overwhelming majority of people who contracted Covid, they were sidelined for a couple of weeks and then recovered. Many were asymptomatic. By comparison, when AIDS came along, contracting it was assumed to be a death sentence.
In the 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (as of 2018) approximately 700,000 Americans have died of AIDS, which is strikingly similar to the amount of people killed by Covid in the past 18 months (682,569, as of this writing). But contracting a disease – even one that can be fatal – doesn’t automatically (or even generally) make you a person with a disability. And yes, while people in 2020 or 2021 would keep their distance from someone who has Covid, there is simply no comparison between this type of public health decision and the stigma attached to contracting AIDS 30 years ago. Her feeling “diseased and discarded” because she was asked to quarantine doesn’t measure up.
The plaintiff’s brother got Covid. There is no indication that Mannington Mills fired him for it. And while it is possible he could have long-term effects from Covid that might render him a person with a disability someday, there’s no indication that this is the situation now. Absent evidence to the contrary, he appears to NOT meet the definition of a person with a disabilty under the law. And, even if he did, there is no indication in that the employer fired his sister (and not him) because he got Covid.
It’s possible she may have a case for wrongful termination. I’m not a lawyer, but getting canned for forgetting you talked to your brother seems a tad harsh. But her brother getting Covid doesn’t make her a person with a disability, or give her coverage under the ADA. The case was dismissed.
I received this note from Dr. Shengli Dong, from the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems at Florida State University. He is a leading researcher on the incredibly important topic of transitioning to work and post-secondary education for people with disabilities. He is looking for people with disabilities to fill out a survey regarding employment outcomes.
Clinical research on the employment of people with disabilities is so incredibly important. It is an area of life where there is so much more progress left to be made. If you are a person with a disability, please consider taking the survey (you can even win a $20 gift card!). If you are not, please forward it on to someone who is. Thank you!
“You are invited to participate in a study on resource seeking strategies and impact on employment outcomes among individuals with disabilities. The study is conducted completely online and will be kept confidential. To participate you must be an individual with disability, at least 18 years of age, and will work either fulltime or parttime. The survey should take about 10-15 minutes of your time. You will be given the opportunity to opt into a raffle for a $20 gift card (given to approximately one of every 25 participants). This study has been approved by the FSU Internal Review Board as part of the research requirements. If you have any questions about the research study or need an alternative survey format, please contact Dr. Shengli Dong by e-mail: email@example.com
Please click on the survey link for more details: https://proxy.qualtrics.com/proxy/?url=https%3A%2F%2Ffsu.qualtrics.com%2Fjfe%2Fform%2FSV_cIaV5L8GVdj9Y2i&token=yzY%2BGC8FzQN0nxibGr0R%2BAs905LAbiR%2Bt9CljTlwvyo%3D
I tried surfing once, and I was awful at it. My wife and I went to Hawaii a few years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary and no trip to Hawaii would be complete without trying to learn to surf. We spent an hour in Waikiki Bay with an instructor who was one of the more patient people I’ve ever met, and failed miserably at surfing. At the very end, we were both able to get on the board for a few moments — long enough to get some snapshots which will be misleading for all eternity. A picture, in this case, does not tell a thousand words.
I do, however, love the beach. I just got back from one of my favorite places in the world – Nokomis Beach in Florida. Jill and I have been going down there for over 30 years and, added together, I have spent over one year of my life in Florida, hanging out at the beach. Beaches are great — free parking, free fun. Put on some suntan lotion, grab a good book and something cool to drink, and you have a truly enjoyable experience.
For people in wheelchairs, however, the beach can be impossible. It is pretty hard to draw up a fun location to go to that is less accessible by it’s very nature than a beach. People in wheelchairs can go out on the pier, or the jetty, if they are set up correctly. They can go in a boat, provided the boat or marina has a lift to help them aboard. But it is incredibly difficult to actually go to the beach itself or (pipe dream) surfing, if you are a wheelchair user.
There is a wonderful organization called AmpSurf that is trying to change all of that. In partnershp with students from University of California at Berkeley they are creating a prototype of a power wheelchair that will handle beach terrain. This is actually not new…. There have been created before that could help wheelchair users go on to the beach. What makes this effort unique is that this chair is being designed to help users with disabilities to surf.
The chair has a side rack to carry the surf board. The user drives the wheelchair out into the shallow water and, once they have taken out the board and dismounted the chair, pushes a button on their phone to send the chair back to the beach. When the surfer is ready to come out, the chair will return to the water to help the user exit the ocean.
This type of technology sounds incredible and it will no doubt have a profound impact on some people. It does, however, highlight how tough the field of assistive technology can be. One of the questions to be asked when a new product comes along is: Who is it for? In this case it is apparently for (a) wheelchair users who (b) live near the ocean and (c) want to surf and (d) have the money to spend on it. I fear that would be an pretty small piece of pie in the end.
Surfing is a very niche sport and activity. But millions of people love going to the beach. Over half of the states in the USA border an ocean or one of the great lakes. Many warm weather states, like Florida, cater to an elderly population. If this product can be marketed to beach lovers (with the added bonus to surfers), it might have a chance. I wish them well – because everyone deserves a day at the beach!
We were honored to host Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and the president of The Ohio State University, Dr. Kristina Johnson, to our offices at Assistive Technology of Ohio! We were also blessed to be joined by Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.
Assistive Technology of Ohio, based in the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, runs a statewide disability technology lending libary, focusing on the types of technologies that help people with disabilities succeed in employment, compete in the workplace, and live more independent and interconnected lives.
We were able to spend some time with our honored guests on Wednesday, April 28, to show them the types of technologies available to be checked out and tried out by any Ohioan with a disability. The tour included a presentation by Brad Whitmoyer, a small business owner who is non-verbal, and who utilizes a power wheelchair. Brad demonstrated how he uses an Accent 1400 augmentatitve communication device made by Prentke Romich, a Wooster-based company that is a world leader in the area of AAC devices.
“Assistive Technology of Ohio is a hidden jewel at Ohio State,” DeWine said. “What they do can transform people’s lives.”
Other technologies which were shown to the governor included portable CCTV devices for people with visual impairments, the Clear Reader+ device, for blind users, which quickly transforms printed text to spoken words. The tour showcased assistive technologies made in Ohio, including HomeSense, made in Akron, which helps prevent kitchen fires by turning off unattended cooking food, as well as the Obi, made by Dayton-based Desin, Inc., which is a robot that puts people with disabilities back in charge of feeding themselves.
Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and OSU President Kristina Johnson watch Brad Whitmoyer communicate via a Accent 1400 device from Prentke Romich.
Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted joined states all over the country in proclaiming April 14, 2021 to be Assistive Technology Awareness Day! We thank the Governor for this recognition and for his commitment to assistive technology and remote supports for people with disabilities.
In 2018, Governor John Kasich declared Ohio to be a Technology First state. Since that time, Ohio has been a national leader in the utilization of remote supports in the care of Ohioans with developmental disabilities. As referenced in the Governor’s proclamation, Ohio has seen a 53% increase in authorizations for remote support since 2018, with 84 of the 88 counties participating.
OOD, Ohio’s state-federal vocational rehabilitation program, has also been a champion of the role that assistive technology can play in the lives of Ohioans with disabilities who are seeking employent. AT Ohio has also increased educational programming to Ohio’s aging population, an increasing group of consumers of assistive technology.
Videos messages were also issued by Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and by Jeff Davis, Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.
We thank Director Miller and Director Davis for helping bring awareness to this important aspect of life for people with disabilities.
Happy Assistive Technology Awareness Day!
USA Today recently published an article looking at the growing and troubling trend of people who are (or are suspecting to be) faking a disability in order to get preferred status during travel, especially in regard to airlines. From wanting to board first, to making very questionable claims asserting an accompanying pet is a “service animal,” people are apparently gaming the system to make airline travel easier.
Among the most egregious violators are those passengers who board first, in wheelchairs, and then when the flight is over, walk off the plane and down to baggage claim without any need of assistance. Airline personnel derisively refer to these types of passengers as recipients of miracle healing, as if they had been given divine intervention at 25,000 feet. Other instances are of passengers claiming a pet as a service animal in order to (a) have them with them on the flight and (b) avoiding paying the extra fees for travelling with a pet.
Airline crew members have a name for that kind of fake disability on a plane. It’s called a “miracle” flight.
It’s a unique corner of life because being a person with a disability is generally NOT a status people are clamoring to be a part of. People with disabilities have a harder time moving through the world. People with disabilities, as a general rule, have very low employment rates and are more likely to live in a lower socioeconomic status. There are few areas of life where there are substantive privileges associated with being a person with a disability.
One of those areas, of course, is in the area of long-term disability, especially in the case of accident litigation. Insurance companies and employers have long suspected injured parties involved in legal cases to be faking, exaggerating, or malingering their symptoms. Certainly, there are some people who do not meet the definition of permanent disability who are applying for SSDI, SSI and workers’ compensation benefits. I suspect there is no end to unscrupulous people who will try to game the system, as evidenced by the thousands of people currently fraudulently filing for unemployment during the pandemic.
There are areas of life where it is perfectly acceptable to utilize services or areas that are are also accessible to people with disabilities. That is the entire point of the concept of Universal Design in architechture. I attended Miami (Ohio) University in the late 1980s, and it was, for the most part, a highly inaccessible place for people with wheelchairs at that time. King Library – a 3-story building – had an elevator with a big wheelchair placard on it. Just because the elevator is the sole way a wheelchair user could reach the 3rd floor is not a reason for an ambulatory person to skip the elevator. The elevator is for everyone, including people with disabilities.
If you do not have a disability and you enter a public restroom that is empty, you should generally not use the accessible stalls, leaving them open in case a person with a disability’s arrival is imminent. If it is the only unoccupied stall, however, it is perfectly acceptable to use it. There is no constitutional right for a person with a disability to not have to wait for an elevator or an accessible bathroom stall, only that those options are available in the environment.
But to fake a disability to get a preferable seat on a flight, to avoid a pet fee, and to secure a prime parking spot is contemptible. These are rights of people with actual disabilities which were long fought for and their arrival signaled a tremendous step forward in our society. They are things that represent small steps toward equality. They don’t make life easy for people with disabilities, but they do make life a little less difficult. To fake a disability to do the same thing for yourself is very sad indeed.
When I was growing up in Carbondale, some of my fondest memories were going to college basketball games. The Salukis of Southern Illinois University have quite a tradition, and there were many memorable nights spent at the SIU Arena. One such evening was January 19, 1978, when SIU hosted undefeated and 4th ranked Indiana State, featuring furture NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird. The Salukis took down the Sycamores, that evening, 79-76, one of the greatest upsets in the history of SIU basketball. The following year, the Bird and Indiana State came to town, again undefeated, ranked #1, and this time escaped with a 69-68 win, on their way to their historic season where they finished runner-up in the NCAA Tournament.
But my all-time favorite SIU team was the team from 1976-77. The team featured brothers Corky and Wayne “Rubberband Man” Abrams, Richard Ford, and Gary Wilson. The unquestioned star of the team, however, was a smooth shooting guard by the name of Mike Glenn, known as “The Stinger.” Glenn averaged 21 points per game and the Salukis went 22-7 in a season which featured a win over nationally ranked Mizzou, MVC regular-season and tournament titles, and a berth in the NCAA tournament. There were only 32 teams in the tournament back then, so the first-round victory over Arizona put the Salukis in the Sweet 16 for the very first time. They would go on to lose their next game to #9 Wake Forest out of the ACC, putting an end to one of the great Saluki seasons of all time.
Mike Glenn went to Coosa High School in Rome, Georgia. If you wonder how a kid from northwest Georgia winds up in Carbondale, it was because in the early 1970s, many colleges in the south would not recruit black athletes. SIU had an assistant coach, Herm Williamson, who had developed contacts in Georgia high schools, and many talented black players had made their way to SIU in those days. Prior to Glenn, Walt Frazier had come up from Atlanta and future NBA player Joe Meriweather had arrived a few years later from Columbus, GA. Once desegration finally took hold and SEC schools started recruting black players, the pipeline dried up and a golden era of Saluki basketball came to an end.
Mike Glenn’s father was a high school basketball coach – but not of just any high school. Charles Glenn was the head basketball coach at the Geogia School for the Deaf in nearby Cave Spring. Young Mike spent his childhood going to practices, learning the game, and learning to be around deaf athletes and deaf culture. After his stellar career at SIU, Mike Glenn was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls and played 10 seasons in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves, the New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks.
My guess is he was probably the only NBA player fluent in sign language, and Mike Glenn never forgot about the kids back in Cave Spring. Starting in 1979, he established the Mike Glenn Basketball Camp for the Deaf, the first such basketball camp in the country and it still exists to this day. Currently held in Decatur, Georgia, the camp is free to all deaf basketball players and has featured current and former NBA players as well as well as appearences by the Harlem Globetrotters. It helped give momentum to other deaf basketball camps all across the country.
After his playing career, Mike Glenn would go on to be a basketball announcer and color analyst for TNT, ESPN, and the Atlanta Hawks television network. In 2016, he was inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. SIU has always been proud of Mike Glenn, class of 1977, and not just because of his career in the NBA. They are more proud of the person he is, how he always gives back to the deaf community, and how he is a wonderful representive for the university.
Tip of the cap to “The Stinger,” Mike Glenn.
There is a town just north of Carbondale called DuQuoin, home to something called the DuQuoin State Fair. My whole life growing up I assumed the DuQuoin State Fair had some connection to the Illinois State Fair – perhaps it was the state fair for folks who felt it was too much to drive the four hours to Springfield. It turns out that is exactly what it is, but it has nothing to do with the Illinois State Fair at all. It is a private business that made a habit of being open the week after the Illinois State Fair, and grabbing some of the rides and atrractions in the process, who only had to move a few hours down the road to keep working. It’s a brilliant plan that I only figured out in the past few years.
The salad days for the DuQuoin State Fair were from 1957 to 1980, when it was host to a very prestigious horse race known as The Hambletonian, which is the first leg of the harness racing triple crown. The race has been around since 1926 and for most of its career it was run either in the state of New York or in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s currently run in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ. But for 23 years, up until I was 14 years old, it was held in good old DuQuoin, Illinois, population 5,761. For a few years in the late 70s, the race was broadcast live on ESPN making it, officially, the biggest sporting event in the history of southern Illinois. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that in the late 70s, ESPN was also showing tractor pulls and dog jumping competitions — anything, really. But it was still national TV – in DuQuoin!
My criteria for attendance for concerts at the DSF boiled down to one thing: if I had ever heard of them, which was not a given. If I could name a couple of their songs, that was a more-than-sufficient resume for southern Illinois concert goers. One year I scraped together a few dollars to go see Ronnie Milsap, who had been successful enough on the country charts to have some of his records make the top 20 on the pop charts as well. He had easily cleared the bar for my patronage.
I walked into the concert that night not knowing much about him, other than he was blind and had a couple of pop hits. When it was over, it was one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. I sat there mesmerized by his musical talents, by all the different styles of music he could play. By his voice. I heard country music, soul music, 50s doo-wap, big band songs — he could do it all. He even got up once and danced withone of his back up singers – lifts and tosses! I left that night a forever fan of the amazing musical talent of Ronnie Milsap, and it continues to this day.
His story is remarkable, too remarkable to recount fully. Abandoned by his mother, he was raised by his grandparents in the Smoky Mountains. He was a pupil at the North Carolina State School for the Blind in Raleigh since the age of 5, which had an incredible music program. He turned down an opportunity to be the first blind law student ever at Emory University, choosing instead a life on the road, trying to be a rock and roll singer. After ten years of trying, he found himself one night playing a gig and was told that the great Charley Pride was in the house that night. He broke from his normal set and played a couple of Charley’s hits as a tribute. After the show, Charley Pride came backstage and told Ronnie that he had a future in country music. Charley took him around Nashville to meet some folks, and the rest is history. Forty #1 hits later, Ronnie Milsap is one of the legendary country artists of all time. I’m so glad someone in his management team made him play the DuQuoin State Fair.
In his career, Ronnie Milsap was a tireless advocate of blind students learning Braille, rather than just relying on books on tape. He is huge user and advocate of assistive technology for the blind – it has always helped him stay in contact with his fans. He has been an inspiration to blind and visually impaired people all over the world.
This is one of his biggest hits, and one of my favorite songs by him. It was written by Burt Bacharach and was originally a hit for R&B singer Chuck Jackson. Ronnie took it, made it his own, and had a #1 hit with it. What other country artist could take a Burt Bacharach song to the top of the charts? Legend. Today’s Friday spotlight is the wonderful Ronnie Milsap.
Gradually, over time, we have seen more and more people with disabilities in acting roles on television and in the movies. This week, NBC Universal vowed to continue that trend by committing to audition actors with disabilities for every project, a commitment to “creating content that authentically reflects the world we live in.” NBC is the second such studio to make such a commitment, after CBS made a similar commitment in 2019. I think it is incredibly important for people with disabilities to be portrayed on screen. Just folks working, as actors.
I’ve always been a believer our attitudes toward and comfort with people with disabilities in public life is improved if they are “just there.” Not flattering or overly sentimental portrayals, just presence. My kids grew up on our street with a girl (adult woman now) who has significant developmental disabilities. Maddie is just there — she’s part of life on Bowerman Street; she’s part of life in general. There were two dozen school-age kids on our street and all of them grew up with her and learned – as is so often the case in life – that having people with disabilities around as part of your life is no big deal. They went out into world as better people for it.
This is the best step Hollywood could take, by hiring more actors with disabilities. It needs to be more than just having characters with disabilities, however. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently published a report stating that only 22% of roles portraying people with disabilities were filled by actors who were authentically disabled. My youngest daughter enjoys streaming the show Glee, which is about a high school singing club. One of the characters is a person in a wheelchair who, to my surprise, during a dream sequence one episode, arose and started dancing to Michael Jackson’s Bad. This is how I came to know that the actor was playing someone in a wheelchair, rather than an actor in a wheelchair playing a talented high school student. This was a bit disappointing. Better than nothing, but a bit disappointing all the same.
Of course, unless you are playing yourself, you are always trying to portray someone you are not. It’s called acting. And the skill set required to be on Glee is world class, so it may not be that simple to find actors in wheelchairs who fit the bill (and there is also a character on Glee with Down’s Syndrome who is being played by someone with Down’s, to their credit). I think Hollywood would do well just to consider all characters in movies and think, “Is there a reason this couldn’t be played by someone with a disability?” An actor who uses a wheelchair can’t play Jason Bourne, but there were many meaningful characters in the Bourne movies that weren’t scaling buildings, fighting bad guys, and jumping through windows.
Sometimes, when they want the person with a disability to be that guy, it gets complicated. A few years ago, Ben Affleck made a movie called “The Accountant,” about an adult with autism who is an accounting savant with the combat skills of a Green Beret. He is an off-the-books accountant for various organized crime and underworld figures, who keeps finding himself in positions of having to go on killing rampages in order for justice to prevail. It is truly a bizarre movie, finding about the oddest way imaginable to turn an accountant – and a person with high-functioning autism – into an action hero. It’s not terrible as far as action movies go, but it is troubling to watch a character with autism violently kill. It is what heroes do in these movies, but it is still unsettling. I don’t know that we’re better for it.
In the movie, he receives his synthesized, intelligence audio directives from a female character known as “The Voice,” who (spoiler alert) turns out to also be someone with a more severe form autism (and, true to form, played by someone who does not have autism). Ultimately, I think perhaps the cause of showing the talents of people with autism might have been better served if she – the brains of the outfit – had been the only person with autism in the movie, rather than having the Ben Affleck character running around killing dozens of folks.
Still, Hollywood has made progress. Several years ago, I started a library of historical Hollywood movies focused on disabilities. The history of Hollywood and disabilities is, to understate, hit and miss. There are wonderful movies like The Miracle Worker, about the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. If You Could See What I Hear was a wonderful slice-of-life movie about musician Tom Sullivan. And Fear Strikes Out is a compelling look at the world of mental illness through the eyes of major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall.
Others were not so good. Some were awful. None was stranger – or worse – than the movie called Freaks, made in 1932, and starring former vaudeville performer Wallace Ford. The first sentence of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia sets the unfortunate tone for this unfortunate movie: “A conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra seduces a carnival sideshow midget named Hans after learning of his large inheritance…” One guesses that if you just stopped right there, you’d be doing yourself a favor. And you’d be right.
The main premise of the movie is that a “normal” person couldn’t or wouldn’t fall in love with a person with dwarfism, and wouldn’t look to associate herself with the other carnival characters in the movie – the bearded lady, Siamese twins, various actors missing arms and legs, someone who is half man and half woman, and two female characters with significant developmental disabilities known as “Pinhead Pip” and “Pinhead Zip.” In my opinion it is a truly awful film, and a depressing and dreadful depiction of people with disabilities that is painful to watch, even though the characters with disabilities are, by comparison, clearly the good guys.
There is one brief, but truly memorable, scene in the movie, however. Although it has no impact on the plot – whatsoever – there is a 38-second scene (available on YouTube) where Prince Randian, an actor with no arms or legs, while listening to another character’s soliloquy, is shown going through the complex, multi-step process of lighting his own cigarette. It’s impressive. It’s the most – and perhaps only – impressive thing in this ridiculous film.
Needless to say, Hollywood has come a long way. There are far more realistic and authentic portrayals these days of people with disabilities. There are far more roles being created for and filled by people with disabilities. This is good. I applaud NBC Universal and CBS for these important steps. People with disabilities are part of life. If art imitates life, they should be part of our art, as well. Finding ways to work people with disabilities into realistic roles will make for better movies. And it will be better for all of us.