Paralyzed Veterans of America joined other disability advocates on Capitol Hill on November 4, 2013, to educate lawmakers and congressional staff on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the value it holds to veterans in the workplace.
Paralyzed Veterans member Ken Holman speaks at the CCD Capitol Hill briefing Nov, 4, 2013
The event marked the third in a series of briefings organized by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities that aim to educate Congressional staff and their bosses on landmark laws affecting individuals with disabilities. The latest briefing by the CCD’s Veterans and Military Families Task Force focused on the role the ADA’s employment protections play in ensuring equal opportunities in the workplace for veterans living with disabilities.
“It was particularly important and timely coming around Veterans Day to highlight the importance of the ADA to veterans with disabilities, particularly from the perspective of the law’s employment protections and job accommodations and all of the elements that go into enabling a veteran with a disability to get back to work and get on with his or her life,” said Susan Prokop, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Paralyzed Veterans helped lead the charge for passage of the ADA in 1990 and has since fought against efforts to weak it. Since its enactment, the law has been influential in fighting discrimination in areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications for individuals with disabilities.
Monday’s briefing included remarks from Kenneth Holman, a 26-year Marine Corps veteran who was paralyzed in a Humvee accident, on his efforts to transition back into the workforce amid a life-changing disability. After connecting with Cristina Mousel, a vocational employment counselor with Paralyzed Veterans of America’s employment program Operation PAVE – Paving Access for Veterans Employment – Holman secured employment with Microsoft, where he now works as a service project manager with the Joint Department of Defense team.
“Microsoft didn’t focus on my disability, but rather my abilities, and saw the value in my leadership skills,” Holman said. “They gave me a lot of opportunities to prove myself on the job and I also was able to collaborate with my employer about how to make the workplace more accessible to people with disabilities such as mine.”
Holman cited the value of finding an employer that understood the value and compliance with the ADA enough to make accommodations, including telecommuting and flexible work schedules so he could attend medical appointments as well as re-timing the security entrance so he could get his wheelchair through. In turn, Holman made his own accommodations by removing the armrests on his wheelchair in order to fit through some doorways, rather than request that the company doors be widened.
“I love my job at Microsoft,” Holman said. “It gives me a greater sense of self worth.”
The CCD’s briefing series has been vital for dispelling misperceptions about the ADA to current lawmakers and Congressional staff, many of whom were not serving on Capitol Hill when the law was passed in 1990. The briefing had a positive turnout particularly from members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Prokop said.
“There has been such turnover not only in the members of Congress but also in the staff that a lot of them don’t have the historical connection with the ADA,” Prokop said. “This has led to misunderstanding about the law that the disability community wants to dispel to ensure everyone understands how very important the ADA is as a civil rights statute for people with disabilities.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's advocacy on behalf of all people with disabilities
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.