Tag Archives: disability

Congressional Bill Challenges the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) allows people with disabilities the right to go to court if they can’t find satisfaction regarding their civil rights under this law and other disability rights laws.

American flag shines in the sunlight.
Will Congress reduce the power of one of its greatest laws? photo credit: docoverachiever VOTE via photopin (license)

However, a new Congressional Bill, H.R. 620, seeks to change the way people with disabilities may seek redress, or resolutions, to the inaccessible world they encounter. You can read the bill here.

According to a newsletter from the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the bill will take away some rights that now exist under the ADA.

According to bill H.R. 620, it is designed “to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to promote compliance through education, to clarify the requirements for demand letters, to provide for a notice and cure period before the commencement of a private civil action, and for other purposes.”

The fund opposes the bill. “We must counter the business lobby, which wants to make it much more difficult to attain accessibility when businesses such as stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. disregard their ADA responsibilities,” according to the fund’s newsletter.

Black and white photo of an empty wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs.
Stairs are an example of an architectural barrier for someone who uses a wheelchair, scooter, or cane. But what if they block access to a doctor, lawyer, or school? (license)

Two problems in particular will affect people whose rights are violated under the ADA under H.R. 620, and according to the newsletter, it:

  • “Requires a person with a disability who encounters an access barrier to send a letter detailing the exact ADA provisions that are being violated;” and
  • “Rewards non-compliance by allowing businesses generous additional timelines, even though the ADA’s reasonable requirements are already over 25 years old!”
Gavel with a book in the background
How many actions must a U.S. citizen take before they can bring an action to court? (license)

If a person with a disability encounters an architectural barrier, according to the bill, they must do three things before they can take civil action:

  • “Provide to the owner or operator of the accommodation a written notice specific enough to allow such owner or operator to identify the barrier;” and
  • “Specify in detail the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access to a public accommodation, including the address of property, the specific sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act alleged to have been violated, whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier to access was made,” and
  • Specify “whether the barrier to access was a permanent or temporary barrier.”

The amendment language also calls for the creation of a “model program with … an expedited method for determining the relevant facts related to such barriers to access and steps taken before the commencement of litigation to resolve any issues related to access.”

H.R. 620 seems to contradict the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Since lawsuits allow U.S. citizens to “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” or for a remedy for their problems, then requiring people with disabilities to take additional steps before they can bring a lawsuit would hinder that freedom and cause them to have an additional burden unlike other U.S. citizens.

The fund recommends that individuals let their representatives in Congress know if they don’t wish the ADA to be limited by the amendments that H.R. 620 brings.

To find out who your state’s representatives are, you can type your Zip Code in at https://contactingcongress.org. Contacts include phone numbers, emails, and social media of your representatives.

Picture of the domed White U.S. Capitol building.
U.S. legislators will vote whether amendments are made to limit the ADA. (license)

You may also contact your legislators via phone by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You may ask them to help you locate your representatives if you don’t know them.

 

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The EEOC and FedEx Continue Battle to Define Employer Requirements under the ADA

In 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a class-action disability lawsuit against the multi-billion dollar business, FedEx Ground Package System, Inc.

FedEx Ground truck in front of a parked car.
FedEx Ground is facing EEOC discrimination charges for its treatment of people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. photo credit: torbakhopper fedex ground illegal deliveries (this episode actually lasted over five minutes but flickr only allows 90 second uploads) via photopin (license)

Two years later, the lawsuit is still underway after a judge denied the company’s motions to dismiss or strike it.

Court documents provide a rich source of learning about how the government views a business’ obligations to be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

The case comes behind another FedEx case concerning an employee who was Deaf.

In 2015, the National Association of the Deaf intervened in the lawsuit. Unlike a previous EEOC v. FedEx case, this time, a national Deaf advocacy group joined.

According to the association, they intervened on behalf of “two deaf women who worked for FedEx Ground without access to qualified sign language interpreters or other reasonable accommodations.”

In 2016, FedEx’s Motions to Dismiss and to Strike were dismissed by U.S. District Judge, Mark R. Hornak.

Picture shows a screen shot of someone using sign language in an ASL video on the EEOC website.Learn more about this current case in ASL.

Overview

In a 2014 press release, the EEOC said, “FedEx Ground failed to provide needed accommodations such as American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and closed-captioned training videos during the mandatory initial tour of the facilities and new-hire orientation for deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants. The shipping company also failed to provide such accommodations during staff, performance, and safety meetings.”

Female news broadcaster with image of Hurricane Matthew in the background.
As pictured, this news broadcast wouldn’t make any sense to the Deaf community. No interpreter for those who use ASL. No captions for those who are Hard of Hearing. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community needs visual communication. photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video NASA’s 3D view shows Hurricane Matthew’s intensity via photopin (license)

“FedEx Ground refused to provide needed equipment substitutions and modifications for deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers, such as providing scanners that vibrate instead of beep and installing flashing safety lights on moving equipment,” according to the release.

Stop sign shows a person light in green and a person lit in red.
Just like the lights on this sign show it’s safe to cross the street, color changing lights can send visual signals to people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. photo credit: My Buffo Should I stay or should I go? via photopin (license)

Employees worked at facilities in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Maryland, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, and West Virginia.

After attempting to remedy the situation with FedEx, “The EEOC’s lawsuit arose as a result of 19 charges filed throughout the country citing discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing people by FedEx Ground,” according to the press release.

Failed resolution

“The agency consolidated these charges and conducted a nationwide systemic investigation of these violations. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.”

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr, said in the release, “FedEx Ground failed to engage in an interactive process with deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers and applicants to address their needs and to provide them with reasonable accommodations. That’s why we filed this lawsuit — to remedy alleged pervasive violations of the ADA on a national level.”

People sit around a room on several sofas.
Employee engagement requires effective communication. Sometimes that requires accommodations. Trust employees to know what they need. photo credit: TEDxSKE (Lebanon) TEDxSKE salon: 08.09.16 via photopin (license)

A lose/lose scenario

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “…FedEx Ground should have provided effective accommodations to enable people with hearing difficulties to obtain workplace information that is disseminated in meetings and in training sessions. … by failing to do so, FedEx Ground has marginalized disabled workers and hindered job performance. This is a ‘lose/lose scenario.'”

Button says Failure is always an option.
Not preparing ahead to meet the needs of employees can lead to the business and employees losing opportunity. photo credit: Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis Failure : @sharkthang : Quote : Prisma : Wave via photopin (license)

This case supports part of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan’s six national priorities: eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc.

Blue bag with money symbol on it tied with a rope.
Discrimination lawsuits can be costly and inconvenient. photo credit: dolphinsdock Money Bag in Blue via photopin (license)

According to court documents, The EEOC “seeks:

  • a permanent injunction to prevent FedEx Ground from engaging in disability discrimination;
  • an order directing FedEx Ground to implement policies, practices, and programs to provide equal employment opportunities and reasonable accommodations for aggrieved individuals;
  • back pay;
  • compensation for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses;
  • instatement of aggrieved individuals or front pay;
  • and punitive damages.”

No procedure = operating procedure

According to court documents, “The EEOC pleads that ‘FedEx has not implemented a corporate-wide procedure’ for accommodating deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.”

When “faced with a legal duty to seek reasonable accommodations, an employer’s complete and uniform failure to do so can fairly be conceptualized as a standard operating procedure of unlawful conduct.”

What happens when the EEOC goes fishing

Man on beach in sunset gathers his large fishing net.
The judge compares the EEOC to someone who has gone fishing and already cast their net–so they can reap the benefits. photo credit: Prabhu B Doss Networking. via photopin (license)

According to court documents regarding FedEx’s attempt to dismiss or strike the case, “EEOC has provided, and at oral argument FedEx Ground acknowledged possessing, a list of 168 named individuals that are the subject of this suit. And while the EEOC generally ‘may not use discovery.. .as a fishing expedition to uncover more violations,’ here the EEOC has already cast its net.”

Previously, the EEOC had placed a form on their website information requesting leads about FedEx Ground employees who had been denied accommodations during hiring or at work. In stark contrast to FedEx Ground’s training videos, the EEOC’s video is in American Sign Language.

“If some other aggrieved individuals–those meeting the statutory criteria for the claim as pled–are added to the haul . . . sometimes permissible fishing expeditions legitimately catch fish,” the judge said.

Many fish swirl around in the ocean.
If your business policies don’t respect people with all abilities, there are likely many fish for the EEOC to catch. photo credit: forum.linvoyage.com Fish soup IMG_1172s via photopin (license)

FedEx Ground complained that defending themselves against so many was unreasonable.

“FedEx Ground will not necessarily suffer impermissible prejudice. The EEOC’s central claim is based on an alleged failure to engage in an interactive process in order to give disabled individuals a statutorily-mandated reasonable accommodation. If it turns out that FedEx Ground indeed failed to do that, all individuals who were unlawfully discriminated against could be entitled to relief…”

What FedEx Ground failed to understand about the EEOC

According to court documents, “…The EEOC has significant discretion to investigate discrimination claims and … to litigate on behalf of a potential group of aggrieved people” and can “maintain class action suits even where it does not attempt to conciliate on behalf of each member or potential member of the class)” if they have informed the company that some people have suffered certain discriminatory conditions.

FedEx Ground’s statement

In this report, FedEx Ground said, “We value our deaf and hard of hearing employees, and we strive to give them, like all our employees, every opportunity to be successful — including working with them to provide individualized and reasonable accommodations.”

“We have cooperated with the EEOC throughout their investigation and are disappointed that the EEOC was not willing to engage in legitimate, good-faith discussions to conciliate and resolve these allegations. We are confident that we have complied with the law and intend to vigorously contest the EEOC’s unfounded allegations,” they said.

When should accommodations have been provided?

Many lifejackets are restrained by cords.
Ensure that your employees swim, not sink, by making all meetings and trainings accessible to people with all abilities. photo credit: tompagenet IMG_6282 via photopin (license)

According to a 3PlayMedia report, “..FedEx Ground blatantly violated the ADA by failing to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or closed captioned training videos in the following situations:

  • Mandatory initial tour of the facilities,
  • New-hire orientation for applicants,
  • Staff meetings,
  • Performance meetings, and
  • Safety meetings.”

From the perspective of people with deafness and hearing loss

Eisenberg & Baum, LLP of New York, ASL-fluent attorneys, addressed the case. “If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, it can sometimes be hard to get your employer to address your needs. Lack of reasonable accommodations can make your work life miserable, and make it harder for you to do your job.”

What must happen before an ADA lawsuit

“Before an ADA lawsuit can start, the employer must also have taken some ‘adverse employment action’ against the deaf or hard-of-hearing employee. This could be refusal to hire, failure to promote, firing, or discrimination in shifts, positions, or hours. It could also include harassment, if the behavior is serious enough to create a hostile work environment.”

Reasonable Accommodations can be used to complete work duties

Man looks at camera as he holds a phone handset while another person on video waits for him to continue speaking.
People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing have been using videophones and captioned phones for many years now. photo credit: Ian Broyles i invented a video phone to the past via photopin (license)

“For example, a deaf woman may not be able to answer telephone calls. However, she may request a text telephone, voice carry-over telephone, or a captioned telephone, which would allow her to perform the essential work of responding to phone calls. This would be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act unless it was unduly burdensome on the employer.”

Positioning your business to be ADA compliant

Older man in a boat on the water pulling up a fishing net.
Liken the EEOC to the Old Man and the Sea. They are experienced and despite all challenges, they can catch big fish. photo credit: Emanuele Cardinali The Old Man and the Sea via photopin (license)

First, understand that the EEOC is a good fisherman.

According to its website, since the start of FY 2011, the commission has filed more than 200 disability discrimination lawsuits recovering $52,000,000. “The Commission secured this relief through jury verdicts, appellate court victories, court-entered consent decrees, and other litigation-related resolutions.”

Lawsuits include all “segments and sectors of the workforce” concerning a large variety of disabilities.”

Click here to review a list of EEOC cases.

How to avoid the EEOC fishing at your business

To avoid competing against the EEOC protecting the rights of your employees, you must fish better from your own pond. Like most people who fish well, prepare ahead of time.

The secret to good conflict resolution is fishing well with catch and release

Woman in boat holds a large fish she apparently just caught.
How well do you fish? Are you soliciting employee feedback regarding accommodations? photo credit: Kris Krug Antonia Wilson – Salish Sea Charters – Winter Salmon Fishing – Galiano Island via photopin (license)
  • Cast your line. Accessible hiring, training, and meetings. Have public policies that encourage complaints and management interaction.
  • Use the right bait. Avoid any practices or lack of policies that allow discrimination to take place. This includes training any supervisory personnel about supporting all abilities from the first week of hire. Build a nurturing workplace environment. The wrong kind of bait may lose your catch and the EEOC won’t use the wrong kind of bait.
  • Reel in your fish. When complaints are received, call in teams of people with similar abilities and ask them what can be done, what are potential cost-saving short cuts, and about other suggestions.
  • Let them go and multiply. Address needed changes, have follow-up dialogues, and encourage open door policies to discuss future needs. If this encourages more employees with similar needs to apply, it’s because you have strong policies that support your employees. Applicant metrics are a good standard for measurement of policy effectiveness.

    Two large fishing nets are hung in the water beneath a colorful sky.
    When you prepare ahead for success, you’ll cast out your net and gather new clients and funding sources. photo credit: Christopher Crouzet Cu Đê River, Da Nang via photopin (license)
  • Cast a new net. Reap the benefits of encouraging clients with similar abilities to support your efforts. Promote within the disability network, which has a strong word-of-mouth campaign. Enjoy the bounty!

Learn more about the EEOC

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website.

Electric Bicycles Improve Accessibility

Many new bicycles now have hybrid electric power. These offer support for people who might not have cycled because they didn’t have enough power to continue. Now, they will.

Old picture of a bicycle with a gas tank and motor added to make it like a motorcycle.
You don’t have to rig your bicycle up for power anymore! You can purchase an electric bicycle, already made! photo credit: William “”Bill”” Wheatley Collection Photo Electric bicycle via photopin (license)

At Houston’s recent Electric Bike Expo, more than 80 models were exhibited by 18 brands including: A2B, BESV, BULLS, Easy Motion, Focus, Gazelle, Haibike, IZIP, Kalkhoff, Polaris, Raleigh, Stromer, Tempo, Trek, Xtracycle, Yuba with the latest electric drive systems from Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano, and more!

You can link to the brands’ websites here.

The expo is part of a national roadshow sharing the new technology.

According to the main website: ““The first time you feel the power added to your pedal and the ability to tackle that incline is when you realize how this will change your love of cycling and take your return to riding to a whole new level.”

That additional power is the technology that will make cycling possible for more people of all abilities.

Disability Study Points to Important Factors for Employee Retention

A national British study involving major employers and employees determined two major factors related to the retention of employees with disabilities: organizational values and reasonable adjustments, or accommodations.

The research was conducted by the Business Disability Forum, which includes businesses that employ 20 percent of the United Kingdom workforce. The study involved 352 employees. It follows an earlier employees with disabilities study conducted with 145 businesses.

Woman wearing business suit and smiling.
According to the report, retaining each employee saves a company an average of the American dollar equivalent of $43,000 a year. photo credit: Happy businesswoman via photopin (license)

According to the report, retaining employees with disabilities saves money for businesses, because it’s cheaper to keep them than replace them: “…staff turnover in just 5 sectors cost UK business more than £4 billion each year and the average cost of replacing individual employees is estimated at £30,000[1]. The business case for investing in retention is a compelling one.”

Wheelchair ramp placed at bottom of stairs.
Sometimes, employers and employees have differing views on what accommodations are needed. While the ramp is an accommodation here, a wheelchair can’t roll over the stairs. photo credit: Ramp to No where via photopin (license)

One of the areas needing to be addressed were workplace accommodations. According to the study, employees with disabilities felt their employers knew their legal obligations to provide accommodations, while few employees knew where to get advice about them from within their place of work:

  • “Less than 7 in 10 employees with disabilities were ‘very’ or ‘mainly’ confident that their employer has the knowledge to manage legal obligations with respect to adjustments;” and
  • “Close to 3 in every 10 employees with disabilities indicated that they were ‘very’ or ‘mainly’ confident about where to source advice about adjustments from within their organization.”
Business people hold meeting with a man on video.
Advanced technology offers solutions for the needs of all employees. Sometimes, people don’t know the options they have to get the technology. photo credit: Skype panelist via photopin (license)

Existing programs could have provided accommodations for employees, but employees didn’t always know about the programs, according to the report. “Far fewer employees than employers report awareness of the Access to Work program which can assist with funding specific adjustments for individuals that would not reasonably be expected for all employers to fund.”

The Access to Work website says that employees can apply for grants to assist with accommodations.

In the U.S., Centers for Independent Living, resource centers for people with any disability, and vocational rehabilitation programs assist with accommodations for people with disabilities:

Human with a question mark
The study revealed that line managers need resources and support with employees with a disability. photo credit: question mark via photopin (license)

According to the report, organizational barrier to employee with disability retention involves what they refer to as “line managers”  most directly. Line managers need skill and confidence in addressing disability-related needs, and in some cases, employees said that line managers had negative attitudes toward disability.

Man with a cochlear implant
Does your company website include profiles of individuals with disabilities? photo credit: Cochlear Implant via photopin (license)

The report provides suggestions for employers, including:

  • giving visibility to disability, such as having employee testimonials on recruitment webpages and staff profiles, and having staff networks for employees with disabilities;
  • building the skills and confidence of line managers by providing “centrally stored, up-to-date advice and guidance on all aspects of how disability affects employers on the intranet” and providing support them when hiring new team members with accommodations needs;
  • having a “stand-alone disability-related absence policy and clear guidelines for line managers about how disability-related absence is managed;”
  • having a workplace adjustment process that involves employees in the accommodations process. Line managers need training and guidance with this, according to the report; and
  • “reviewing performance appraisal systems for unconscious biases that limit the progress of employees with disabilities.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See: HR REVIEW (Feb 2014)

The report, State of the Nation: Retaining and developing employees with disabilities – Stage 2,

Disability Awareness Effort Asks People To ‘Just Say Hi’

“Siri, how do you start a conversation with someone who has a disability?” Apple’s Siri responds, “It’s easy. Just say ‘Hi.’”

This is part of a campaign to encourage conversation and raise awareness about people with disabilities, according to a Disability Scoop article.

Siri is the voice for the Apple phone’s digital personal assistant, though Google has a surprising answer to the same question. Google sends you to an article about Siri.

Three children sit on a golf cart. A boy and a girl wave hello.
Remember when making friends was as easy as waving Hello? Maybe it still is. photo credit: family on back of golf cart via photopin (license)

Society is unifying in its efforts to raise awareness so that conversations can begin about how to make the world a welcome place for everyone. The process begins with saying “Hi,” as you would for anyone else.

The project was started by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the video includes celebrities such as Gayle King, Tim Cook, Michael J. Fox, Joe Batali, Joe Girardi, Garry Gilliam, Oliver Platt, and more.

In some instances, when a person has a disability, people aren’t sure how to begin the dialogue, such as when someone has Cerebral Palsy.

According to the foundation’s website, “Cerebral Palsy is a physical disability that affects movement and posture. In most cases, brain injury leading to Cerebral Palsy occurs during pregnancy.” Globally, over 17 million people have been diagnosed with the disorder. There is no known cure.

While there’s no known cure for many disabilities, there is a cure for the loneliness and isolation that can accompany them–“Just say ‘Hi.'”

Source: Disability Awareness Effort Asks People To ‘Just Say Hi’ – Disability Scoop

The Need for Star Wars Access for All Abilities, Signing May the Force Be with You

Children dress up as Jedi masters from the Dark Side with red lightsabers.
People of all abilities want to put on a costume and share the Star Wars’ experience. Credit: Christina Goebel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Dec. 17 premiere at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida

While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.

Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.

Star The Force Awakens Wars lit up on the ground.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens step and repeat on the ground at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida makes it easy for everyone to snap their picture, even if they use a wheelchair. Credit: Christina Goebel

Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.

A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.

Star The Force Awakens Wars light display on side of a Disney building.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens building wall projection provides another accessible backdrop for people with many abilities. Credit: Christina Goebel, at Disney Springs

Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:

  • Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
  • Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
  • Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
  • Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
  • Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
  • Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters

Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.

To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”

Seats in a theater with open space next to them to accommodate a wheelchair.
Seats with open spaces next to them are for wheelchairs. Don’t occupy these areas unless you or family members need them. photo credit: Riverview Theater [006/366] via photopin (license)
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.

On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.

Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.

While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.

Darth Vader kneels on ground. He has painted the words Epic Fail on the wall.
Technology exists to improve people’s lives, but many can’t receive access to it. In some cases, when equipment fails, people with disabilities may have to wait years for a replacement. photo credit: Weston Super Mare – Epic Fail via photopin (license)

For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”

Wheelchair foot rest is alone on floor, broken off the wheelchair.
Something as simple as a broken wheelchair foot rest can contribute to broken bones for the user because the wheelchair can roll over his or her foot. photo credit: Broken leg via photopin (license)

Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.

Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.

Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”

The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.

“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.

Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”

J.J. Abrams standing a podium next to microphone.
J.J. Abrams, director of the new Star Wars movie, has contributed to the access of those with disabilities. Have you? photo credit: J. J. Abrams via photopin (license)

J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.

According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”

Picture of Yoda's head. It reads, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
Abrams lives Yoda’s mantra by taking action to ensure greater access for others. It’s probable that a young man whose family he helped was able to see his movie because of Abrams’ contribution. photo credit: Yoda wisdom via photopin (license)

Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.

The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at  or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.

May the Force Be with You!