Commission Meeting of October 25, 2005
The Commission convened, Cari M. Dominguez, Chair, presiding.
CARI M. DOMINGUEZ, Chair
NAOMI C. EARP, Vice Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN, Commissioner
STUART J. ISHIMARU, Commissioner
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: -- The meeting will now come to order.
The meeting will now come to order.
Good morning, and welcome, we really appreciate your being here with us this morning on this rainy, chilly morning. It’s not snow, so that’s the good news, and before we begin this morning’s proceedings, I just want to take a moment because our nation today is in mourning with the passing of Rosa Parks, who was such an icon of the Civil Rights Movement; who was the spark that caused the fire for our nation to catch on fire because of her actions. You know there is a saying that I often say, that if you stand where you sit, and perhaps that had to do with Rosa Parks and she stood the courage of her convictions where she sat by refusing to give up her seat, so today I just want to join with all members of this nation, and particularly all members of this agency who mourn the loss of this great great individual She once said that her feet were tired but her soul was at rest and I think today as we extend our sympathies to her family we can really say may she rest in peace because she really did fight the good fight and she finished the race and stayed the course so I just want to extend my sympathies and join with all of my fellow Commissioners in expressing our appreciation to a great, great person. If there is anyone who would like to join me on that?
Commissioners: All agreed.
We’ve called this meeting to focus attention on the issue of emergency preparedness and the need to ensure that emergency planning encompasses people with disabilities. For the past four years, the Commission has taken a lead role in implementing the employment goals of the President’s New Freedom Initiative, which promotes the full integration of people with disabilities into all aspects of American life. And as the Nation observes Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, we believe that it’s important to take yet another step to raise awareness among private employers to let them know that we are here to continue our efforts to provide guidance and support, to hear their concerns as well as the concerns of those employees who are challenged to educate their employers at times of what special accommodations will be necessary to ensure their safety. We must work together to find solutions, raise awareness and pave the way for those who will be entering the workforce in a world that we’re increasingly understanding is vulnerable to attack.
Let me also announce that as part of our observances and our work under the New Freedom Initiative, today we are also issuing another in a series of questions and answer fact sheets. This one discusses how people who are blind or visually impaired are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. We want to ensure equal access to employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and that also includes safety and preparedness in the workplace.
Well we have a packed agenda this morning so I would like to move as quickly as possible as we can to our panels. But, first let me say that EEOC has played a very active role in issuing guidance on emergency preparedness for several years now. Right after 9/11, we issued a fact sheet advising employers in the midst of creating emergency plans of their ADA responsibilities in gathering the sometimes necessary medical information needed to make proper plans.
Whether natural or manufactured, disasters have been a part of our experiences in recent times and this issue continues to be one of great significance for people with disabilities. About 15 months ago President Bush issued an Executive Order that mandated the creation of an Interagency Coordinating Council and this Council was formed specifically to address emergency preparedness in and out of the federal government. The Commission has been an active member of this Council and today’s activities and the program is part of the many efforts that are underway through the Interagency Coordinating Council.
Dan Sutherland has been leading the Council and many of the federal representatives here today are also active on that Council.
EEOC has experienced disaster twice. First, when we lost our New York Office as part of 9/11. Our Building 7 where our offices were housed was adjacent to the World Trade Center and collapsed, and then again two months ago when our New Orleans Office was destroyed. We have learned our lessons, not all of the disasters are the same, but we've learned a lesson, and with each one of these disasters we've learned a bit more and prepare ourselves a bit more. And so, we want to come along side others to learn and to share our experiences. The President asked that federal agencies work together to bridge gaps and EEOC has come to the table, and now we want to continue to raise awareness to private employers and exchange ideas and best practices. And I'm pleased that colleagues from the Department of Labor are also here because they have also played a very important pivotal role in preparing information that will be helpful in carrying out this mandate. So, first of all, let me say thanks to all of the panel members who will be making presentations today, and thanks to all of you for making this meeting a priority. We couldn't be more pleased with the interest that has been shown, not only by other federal agencies, but also by many private employers and numerous others who have shared their own experiences on how they have learned to prepare for emergencies with all of their employees. In fact, we had such an overwhelming support and interest that I think if we had been able to, if time had allowed, this type of meeting would've lasted not just a few hours but probably several weeks because we had employers coming out of the woodwork trying -- wanting to share their experiences, which by the way, we will capture and share with you through our website at some point.
In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today's meeting is open to public observation of the Commission’s deliberations and voting. And so at this time I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission Meeting, Ms. Wilson?
MS. WILSON: Good morning, madam Chair, madam Vice Chair, Commissioners, I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat. We'd like to remind our audience that questions and comments from the audience are not permitted during the meeting. And we ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, departing and reentering as quietly as possible. Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off or to vibrate mode.
During the period August 6, 2005 through October 21, 2005, the Commission acted on 30 items by notation vote, approved litigation on 22 cases, disapproved litigation on three cases; approved the Fall 2005 Regulatory Agenda; approved resolutions honoring Lynn Y. Bruner, Charlotte Powell, and Marie Fitzgerald on the occasion of their retirement, and approved the FOIA Fee Schedule.
Madam Chair, it's appropriate at this time to have a motion to close a portion of the next Commission meeting in case there are any closed meeting agenda items.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Ms. Wilson, is there a motion to do so?
VICE CHAIR EARP: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Any discussion? Hearing none, all those in favor please say aye?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed? The ayes have it and the motion is carried.
Today we have Dan Sutherland, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and then we will have three panels.
On the first panel we have Michael Hingson, World Trade Center survivor, public speaker, media spokesman. We have Nadia Ibrahim, former employee of Macmillan Publishing USA, Policy Advisor, Office of the Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor, as the first panel. On the second panel we have Edwina Juillet, Co-Founder of National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities, and Anne Hirsh, Services Manager, Job Accommodations Network; we know it as JAN. And lastly, but certainly not least, equally as important, we have on our final panel, Andrew Imparato, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Mike Aitken, Director of Governmental Affairs of the Society for Human Resource Management, and Brian Parsons, Advisor for Employer Policy, Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. Again, welcome to each one of you. Thank you so much for enriching our knowledge with your presence and your information here today. At this point I'd like to open the floor for my fellow Commissioners should they wish to make any opening statements. Madam Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Very briefly, thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning everyone. At the end of the movie, Gone with the Wind, as you know, Scarlet famously said, “I will think about it tomorrow; tomorrow is another day.” It has been said that we should eat, drink, be merry, and not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. The idea of putting off until another time those things that require substantial thought is not new. We often believe we can delay the inevitable, but the issue of preparedness is at hand right now. It's immediate. Since September 11, I believe we can no longer avoid thinking about and planning for disaster. We may not know whether that disaster will be in the form of a Katrina or in the form of terrorist attacks. But what I do believe sincerely is that we can't delay it another tomorrow. Specifically, we must be prepared to respond to disasters that may strike while we're at work since most Americans spend the overwhelmingly largest part of their day in the workplace. Of the Commission meetings that I've participated in, in the two and a half years that I've been here, probably none have touched me as much as preparing for this one. We recognize at EEOC the value of planning and drilling for emergencies. Our employees never mind walking down ten flights of stairs for a fire drill, some mind walking back up, but usually we don't mind walking down. And no one complains about having to stay in the conference room for a shelter-in-place drill. But our preparedness experience here at EEOC, especially at Headquarters, pales in comparison to what some of you have gone through and what our offices, as the Chair has already mentioned, in New York and New Orleans have gone through. Many of you have actual hands on experience and knowledge that will help us to make a difference. Despite the many guidances EEOC has already issued, I know that our statutes, our regulations, and our rules don't automatically pop into the public's mind when they think about emergency preparedness. That doesn't mean, obviously, we have no role. It just means we have to continue to do what we do better and perhaps do it more visibly. I want the benefit of the knowledge that you have to share today. I'm here to listen and to learn about how employers and their employees can be better prepared for workplace emergencies. I want to hear specifically your recommendations about what more EEOC can do regarding our role in this very important national endeavor. Thank you to the panel, to the public for being here; I look forward to hearing your recommendations and your presentation.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Madam Vice Chair. Commissioner Silverman?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Good morning. I'd like to thank Chair Dominguez for convening this meeting and I'd like to thank all the speakers who will be sharing their experiences and expertise with us this morning. And I'd like to apologize in advance if I seem glazed up here, I'm being held up, propped up, by Tylenol Cold this morning, so. In the aftermath of a seemingly steady stream of emergencies and disasters, the phrase emergency preparedness has become a familiar one; however, most of the attention has been focused on what should be done at home. But as we know from events, from events such as Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks on September 11, emergencies do not always take place when you're at home with your family. Sometimes they do strike at work, and as the Vice Chair stated, this is a place where many of us spend an increasing amount of time. Workplace emergency preparedness is therefore vitally important. When preparing for emergencies at work, we must keep in mind that one size does not fit all. For many employees with disabilities, an employer’s standard evacuation plan is simply not going to work. Some employees with disabilities may require alternate means of communication to understand emergency instructions, while others may need individualized evacuation procedures. It is imperative that employers be aware of these special needs and that they become an integral part of every workplace emergency preparedness plan. I'm looking forward to hearing from the array of experts who have joined us today and I welcome this opportunity to learn about the seldom discussed but critically important topic. It is my hope that today's forum will help spotlight emergency workplace preparedness issues affecting individuals with disabilities and provide employers with the resources to resolve them. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Commission Silverman. Commissioner Ishimaru?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair. I wanted to thank you as well for calling this hearing. I think this is a great idea; it's a very important topic. I hope we do more of these in the future. As you know, I think we do our best work in public and I think the interest shown by the public and by having these experts here today speaks well for doing more of these. Thank you very much. I have a written statement for the record that I ask be put in as is our usual course and be printed with the transcript when it gets done.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much. And I also wanted to note that my friend, the Vice Chair, has been confirmed for another term and I congratulate you on that. And joining her is Christine Griffin, who is the Director of the Disability Law Center in Boston, who will be our fifth member, so we'll be back at full speed again and, as a disability rights expert, I know she has an interest both in this and in the broader area generally, and I hope we can do more on disability in the future. You know, one of the things that I was fascinated by in looking through the testimony was Mr. Imparato citing to a Cornell Study that talked about the decline in employment for people with disabilities. And it was fascinating to me and striking that there has been a trend that we should be looking at to see how we could better focus our efforts if there's a way to do that to improve things for the future. So I hope, perhaps, in the future we can get to questions like that. I join the Vice-Chair in wanting to ask our panelists how we can do a better job, can we do more, can we do it better. I was impressed in looking through the materials of all the thought and hard work that's already gone on. And I think having a hearing today is a good way to highlight that work and to talk about how we can play a role in that as well. Finally, I want to give a personal welcome to my old colleague, Dan Sutherland, who I had the pleasure of working with at the Department of Justice. And I know Secretary Chertoff is well served by having him there in this important position. So welcome, Dan, it's good to see you. Madam Chair, thank you very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Commissioner. I had thought about announcing the Senate confirmation both of Vice Chair Earp and Christine Griffin, and the President has not yet signed the papers, so I was counseled not to announce it until -- there has to be an Executive Action before it's officially announced, but having given that you've mentioned it, I just want to echo your sentiments.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, I can appreciate that, Madam Chair; I know the Senate voted on Friday.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes, and he's been a little busy, but I'm sure he'll get to those cases.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Oh, no, no, no, no, it's no criticism of the President; I was just noting that the Senate had voted --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- and I think it's good news for all of us.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. At this point I'd like to invite Daniel Sutherland who is the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to join us. And welcome and thank you for being here.
MR. SUTHERLAND: Thank you. I appreciate the chance to speak to you. I wanted to thank the Chairwoman and all the Commissioners for holding this hearing. I think we had begun talking about a hearing like this some number of months ago, prior to Hurricane Katrina. Your timing is impeccable. We need this issue to be talked about and to have this Commission highlighting this issue is incredibly important. So I want to thank you and congratulate you on seeing this and hope to have your leadership in so many different ways coming out of the work that we'll talk about here today. I think there's a lot to talk about and there's a lot to be done in the next several months. In my opinion we have peoples’ attention for the next several months in ways we will never -- we did not have it before and maybe never will have it again. And what we do over the next several months will tell about whether people, peoples’ lives will be saved and suffering will be averted, so I think it's incredibly important. I think my role today is just in a few minutes to give you a broad sense of the issues and then in the panelists you have a number of experts on particular issues, particularly on some of the workplace issues that I'll leave for them. But if I can just give a broad picture of the issues, that would, I hope that will help you as the day goes along. We began looking, as Katrina hit; we began looking at the demographics of the area. We found that in, according to the census data, in Biloxi, Mississippi 25 percent of the population in that urban setting were categorized as people with disabilities, 25 percent. We looked at the city of Mobile and 24 percent of the residents are categorized as people with disabilities. We looked at the city of New Orleans, 21.3 percent of that metropolitan area were people with disabilities. Just to put that in, away from percentages and into real numbers; that meant 250,000 people in New Orleans were categorized as people with disabilities. And I want to give you a little bit more on the statistics there because I think as we look back over everything that has happened with regard to Katrina, and there's so many different issues, everything that could've happened in an emergency context happened here. But I think one of the five or six main themes that we need to see in Katrina is the impact of these hurricanes on people with disabilities, and then what do we do about it. So let me just give you a little bit more on statistics. As I said, there were 250,000 people in New Orleans. There were almost 24,000 people in the census who stated they had “long lasting conditions of blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment; that's 25,000 people. There were 65,000 people who were categorized as having a mental disability. Now that would naturally include all sorts of different situations, including cognitive disabilities, but there are issues certainly about mental illness that people do not report on the census, so those numbers certainly are underreported. There were 107,000 people who stated “that they had a condition that substantially limits basic physical activity, such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying” and I can go on and on with the numbers. But I think the emphasis that I wanted to give to you is that the issues regarding Katrina and the long term recovery there, we're dealing with tens of thousands of people who we need to be focusing on when we're talking about people with disabilities and the special needs that come there. A couple of the statistics, the Para-transit system in New Orleans provided 30,000 rides a month, and that was a rate that was increasing at 67 percent per month. A fascinating study was done by the Commission by the Washington Post. A polling company went to some of the large shelters in Houston, the Astrodome and the Reliant Center and others, and asked people who were evacuated out of New Orleans why didn't you evacuate yourself. And this is a question we all asked ourselves and they went and got the real data. Now, 37 percent of the people said I just didn't want to leave. Okay, we understand that. But there were two statistics that I wanted to point out; 22 percent of the people said they were physically unable to leave and another 23 percent of the people said they had someone to care for who was physically unable to leave. Now, I'm not a math major, that's why I ended up being a lawyer, but I can add up 22 and 23, and that's 45; 45 percent of the people who were in the Astrodome and other centers in Houston were there because they were physically unable to leave or they were caring for somebody who was physically unable to leave. That tells us something that we're not looking at a niche or a small issue here when we're talking about people with disabilities and emergency issues. It's a huge setting. I remember there's an article in the Washington Post that talked about all the people who did not leave an urban center in the face of a horrific hurricane and how that had to change everything in the emergency management field. It's a new paradigm. We thought people would leave. People didn't leave and they can't leave for a variety of reasons, and one of the major reasons is disability and we need to recognize that. I think I just in the next portion of what I want to talk about, in the next five minutes or so, I wanted to talk about the Interagency Coordinating Council that I have the privilege of chairing and that EEOC and a number of other federal agencies work on. A year ago July, July 2004, the President signed an Executive Order that created an Interagency Coordinating Council on emergency preparedness and people with disabilities. I know the Chairwoman was with us right from the beginning in that work. The President, in the Executive Order said that the federal government must “consider in their emergency preparedness planning the unique needs of agency employees with disabilities and individuals with disabilities whom the agency serves.” It's this broad policy statement which I will not read here, but there was a broad policy statement that the federal government must consider people with disabilities throughout the whole emergency management system. Now, it was a good policy statement, but to make it have legs and to do something, have teeth, we -- he created a Council to actually see it through. The Secretary of Homeland Security is the chair of the Council, but we have 24 different federal agencies, including the EEOC, who actively participate in the Council. We are working in -- we had identified really eight different areas where we needed to work. One whole area, for example, was emergency communications issues. We know that in preparedness, and certainly in response and recovery, there are issues that deal -- I'm thinking of the deaf community, they need to get information about a coming hurricane or after a hurricane where we go, where services are, those sorts of things. And it presents all sorts of challenges. The Federal Communication Commissions chairs our work, and about 10 or 11 other federal agencies are working with them. We have identified emergency transportation issues, health and human service issues or social service issues. We identified emergency preparedness in the workplace, so evacuation planning, which is more of the subject of this hearing today, but I just wanted to give you a broad sense that there is an interagency federal Council that's working on all these different areas. You'll hear as the day goes along more about the work that we've done in the context of emergency preparedness in the workplace; and our colleagues from the Labor Department chaired a group that I think about 15 other federal agencies participated in. They chaired it and that group produced a report that they will show you later on that has templates for questions that need to be asked as employers are thinking about how do I deal with evacuation planning; here are things you need to be thinking through. So they will present that to you later, but I just wanted to tell you that the Council exists. We're dealing with eight or nine different major areas like that and so there is -- I think one of the things we were fortunate about having, when Katrina hit, we had a structure in the federal government to try to respond in a coordinated way to the issues that came to us. So, as a result of Katrina, one thing we decided immediately was we needed a ninth group and we called it an incident management team. And so we've been meeting on either an, at the early stages, a daily basis or an every other day basis, or every third day, early on we took an entire day that we met together for eight hours and tried to plan out what we would do, but we've just been trying to solve problems throughout. This Council has given us the opportunity to give advice directly to Secretary Chertoff, Secretary Levit, and others who have been so involved with the day-to-day planning. They are getting information fed to them from the disability community and about these issues. We've also been able to place a subject matter expert on disability issues at the joint field office in Baton Rouge and at the joint field office in Austin. And I just talked to my person in Baton Rouge, as I do most nights for 45 minutes or so, and it's quite an experience, but a great opportunity for us to have somebody who is a specialist there on these issues. She's been to the new mobile home parks that they're setting up and actually looking through the mobile homes, where's that grab bar, how high are the toilets, all of those basic questions that only a specialist knows the answers to. So we've been able to put a subject matter expert there. We've also had a number of people from the Council who have toured different shelters earlier on when there were many people in shelters. We went to shelters in different cities and looked there and tried to find the solutions. We've been a conduit for offers of help; for example, in the early days after Katrina, there were people who offered truck loads of wheelchairs, catheters, hearing aids, hearing aid batteries and they didn't know how to get them where they needed to go and we were a conduit to be able to help them get that kind of medical, durable medical equipment where they needed to go. One last example I'll give of the work that the Council was able to do was in the very first phone call that we had with disability service providers in that area, which I think was Friday, the hurricane having hit Sunday, we met by telephone with 40 or 50 different disability service providers from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and one of the big problems that they raised to us was that people who needed medications were going into the local pharmacy and could not get those medications filled because they had a card from -- a Medicaid card from Louisiana and they were now in Texas, or Arkansas, or Alabama, and the pharmacy wouldn't take it because it's a card from out of state. One of the members of our Commission, of our Council, is Dr. Peg Gianini from Health and Human Services. And that was a Friday, Saturday morning she went and found Mark McClellan who's the head of the Medicare/Medicaid Services and described this problem to him and by that afternoon the problem was solved. He issued guidance telling pharmacies to take that. That's a real example. All of us have worked in government and we know that sometimes it works, and this is an example of a time when it worked, when we saw a problem and we were able to fix a problem right away. I have four or five other pages of other things that we have done, but I have to -- I'm just going to stop with the last page, which is challenges ahead. We have been able to get a lot done, but there are very major challenges regarding both Katrina and then the larger issues. Just with Katrina, the major issues really are accessible housing. People don't have somewhere to go and they don't have housing that is accessible and that's an issue that we're working with and a number of our colleagues are working on. Transportation issues and then really an accurate after-action review as well, we need to know what happened and why it happened and what are the lessons to be learned. So back to I think the topic of the day for you, which is evacuation planning in the workplace, to me it's a critical issue and it must be a key point in the whole employment -- the chronic complex employment problem if employers know how to deal with employees with disabilities, in all sorts of context, both in reasonable accommodation requests but also if an evacuation happens, here's how it's going to work and it's going to work smoothly, and there are experts to tell us how all these things work. They are going to be much more comfortable hiring people with disabilities, in my judgment. I have no data on that. I hope some of your other panelists do, but that has got to be a fact. And I think that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in the next several months, employers, state governments, fire chiefs, Cabinet officers at the federal level, all the media, are going to be listening to what we have to say on these subjects. And so it's incumbent upon us to not only prepare thoughts on it but really work hard to get action oriented solutions. So I appreciate the chance to speak to you and I commend you again for holding this hearing.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MR. SUTHERLAND: Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Sutherland. I very much appreciate your comments and most importantly your leadership on the Interagency Coordinating Council. Your full report will be made available to all of the public in general. So thank you very much for your work; I appreciate it. Are there any questions of Mr. Sutherland?
VICE CHAIR EARP: No, I think that was very thorough.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I actually have a couple questions. Do you have a feel for how many employers have emergency plans or are thinking about doing plans, and as a percentage of that how many of those plans actually consider the needs of employees with disabilities?
MR. SUTHERLAND: I don't have the data that you're specifically asking for. We're working with the National Organization on Disability about a year ago did a study of emergency management officials, about 100 emergency management officials, so not employers but people let's say who run the county for, you know, some county in Illinois and doing their emergency planning. And we asked them a series of questions, 15 or 18 questions along those lines. And there -- the glass was half empty and half full at the same time. We were very encouraged to see, I think the numbers were about 80 percent. Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of emergency management officials said yes, we recognize this is an issue and we've incorporated people with disabilities in our planning. We were very encouraged with that and I think maybe ten years ago you wouldn't have seen that. As you went more into the depth, which I think is the question that you're asking too, we saw that I think, again, I don't have these numbers, you know, with me, but I think it was between 20 and 30 percent had actually hired a specialist in these issues to work with them. That would tend to lead one to believe that they recognize the issue but they didn't have somebody with the depth of knowledge to work through all of the issues. Now, I don't know what the comparison would be with private employers, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it in the same sense; that people are recognizing the issue but I'm not sure they've worked through it with somebody who's an expert in these issues.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: You know, one of the other issues that came up during Hurricane Katrina, and it came up here with the EEOC when our office was destroyed and people were scattered and we had a hard time trying to find them, but thanks to the Chair’s leadership and staff leadership, we found everyone, we made sure they were taken care of, I thought that all went very well. But what do you do when something happens at work, something happens at work, you're able to get the person out of the building safely and then, you know, is it then handed off to somebody else. Whose responsibility is that? Is that just a coordinated effort that has to go on? I know when we talk about our plan here and at our various offices. We can get people out of the building; we can get them to safety hopefully, but then what happens? How do they get home? I know that when 9/11 hit here, there was gridlock and a lot of people walked home because they had no other alternative. But who, where is the obligation or where is the responsibility? Where should it lie? Or is that something that we just need to talk through and to try to come up with solutions that work for everyone?
MR. SUTHERLAND: Well, I think it certainly would be definitely the latter. That's a new question to me. I was thinking, Stuart was kind to earlier say we were colleagues; he was one of my bosses at the Justice Department, so I was thinking as an attorney in trying to interpret the Americans with Disabilities Act if there's a legal obligation under Title II or III and I'm really not sure. That would certainly be a novel question, whether there's a legal obligation for an employer to get somebody any further than the sidewalk. I would have a hard time seeing that, but again I haven't considered it. But I don't think you were asking a narrow legal question.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, it's more how, you know, how do we get this done, and who should be thinking about this. And I would assume that as we learn lessons from various events that happen, people will think that, well we got them out of the building. In the prep for this, there was talk that once people got down to the bottom of the World Trade Center back in 1993, they got them outside, it was snowing and icy, and then the firemen left the people there because there was no plan in place to get them to a place where they would be taken care of, because it just wasn't thought about. And the person who I believe was blind was left out without guidance, without help out in the snow and ice to fend, fend for himself. And that's something that's no one's fault, it's just something that we haven't thought about, and I assume now as we're thinking about these things, people are thinking about, you know, how you move people beyond the immediate problem area and move them on to a safer place.
MR. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, I do think we need to look at comprehensive emergency planning. It's not good enough, and I don't think anybody would say it's good enough to take people as far as the sidewalk. The city, the county, disability service providers, we need to all be aware of how we get people to a safe place, a completely safe place, and back living again. I mean one of the issues we're seeing in Katrina is that in the immediate aftermath you needed -- there were people with serious medical needs and they would take them to a nursing home. That's the safest place to put them but that's not a place to stay, and we need to move people out of nursing homes and back to living in the community. So it is a complex situation, but if we don't think now, if we don't plan now as you were saying, we're never going to get there.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Speaking of the World Trade Center and our next panel includes a survivor, so I'm sure we'll bring that incident to light for all of us. Thank you very much, Mr. Sutherland.
MR. SUTHERLAND: Thank you. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I appreciate it. At this point I'd like to invite Michael Hingson, who is a World Trade Center survivor and Nadia Ibrahim, who is a former employee of Macmillan Publishing Company and is also Policy Advisor for ODEP at the Department of Labor. Both of them represent looking at this issue from the employer's perspective and employee's perspective, having lived through an incident of such magnitude. Welcome. Mr. Hingson, thank you for coming. I appreciate your presence here today. Please begin.
MR. HINGSON: Thank you for inviting me, Madam Chair, Vice Chair, other Commissioners and guests, my first observation I think would be that in fact, we as disabled people will never truly be safe in the workplace until we're totally accepted and integrated into the workplace. Let me illustrate that by talking about the end of the 9/11 story a bit before talking about what actually happened. And I also, by the way, have provided a number of written comments previously, and so this will hopefully augment those a bit.
Days after 9/11 I began hearing stories and questions about whether disabled people should even be allowed to work above the first floor of any building in New York City or any tall building. And finally I was asked about that, and my response was very simple. I have no problem with requiring that all disabled people stay on the first floor so long as no building is allowed to be built more than one story tall. The reality is we are part of the workforce and until we are totally accepted and until it is totally understood that although we may use different techniques, I think what one of you said, one method does not fit all, until we are totally accepted in the work place as equals, we will never truly be safe because people will not look at safety for us in the same way, except with alternatives, as they do for themselves. On 9/11 I was on the 78th floor of Tower 1, and it's really tough to tell the story in just a few minutes, but I'll try. When the building was struck, I was the manager of Quantum Corporations New York/New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. I had put in place some emergency preparedness procedures for my employees, none of the rest of whom were disabled, but still because of all the discussions about the 1993 bombings, because of all the things that had occurred, and because the Port Authority had put in place some emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures, I carried it into our office. And so we knew what to do. On 9/11, however, none of my colleagues were in the office. We had some guests from out of the facility and I had one colleague who had flown in from our California corporate office. So there were no other residents of the office in the building besides me and my guide dog, Roselle, who generally sleeps through most of the procedure discussions anyway. We, however, were able to function because I was prepared and I was able to issue directives to get our guests out of the building, to get our guests headed to the stairwells, and then once we knew that they were gone and they were descending the stairs, my colleague and I left. My colleague David Frank escorted them to the stairs under direction and then we left. I knew where the various stairwells were. I knew where they were because I had worked to find them. Most people think that the dog just leads the person to the stairs and leads them wherever they need to go. It doesn’t work that way. The dog is not the brains of the outfit; it's my job to do that. It's my job to know how to go where I want to go and to direct her. If one stairwell had been blocked, I would've had a problem if the dog knew how to go to the stairs and I didn't. So it was my responsibility to know how to go where I needed to travel. We went to the stairs; we began descending the stairs, never knowing what had happened. The aircraft hit on the 96th floor on the opposite side of the building from us, so we had no real clue as to what had occurred. As we went down the stairs there was a lot of speculation. We did smell burning jet fuel and assumed an airplane struck the building but received no communications from anyone as to what had happened. Was that the right thing to do? Was that the wrong thing to do, anyone’s guess? I know that there was certainly concern about not generating any panic on the stairs. When we got to the bottom of the stairs we were rushed through the lobby of One World Trade Center into the central area of the building, and eventually to a door as far away from the two towers as we could be, never knowing that a second aircraft had hit the second tower. We were sent outside and then we were left. Now, I don't mean that in a totally negative way. I had a colleague with me, someone who could see, but we had no information. We didn't know that a second aircraft had struck, and so we chose to go to a car that he had parked right across from Tower Two. And we were about 100 yards away when that building collapsed and then everyone had to run for their lives and fend for themselves. We did that and we survived because, again, I knew where to travel and I knew the area, but that was my own orientation. I think there do need to be some plans in place. I think that there are some efforts that need to be made. I think that there is no easy way to make a solution that works for everyone, but I do believe that having the discussions that you are having will open the door and certainly encourage others to debate the subjects that we discuss here and to determine how we best proceed or at least give people the opportunity to think about that for themselves. One last comment, I worked for Guide Dogs for the Blind. We had 11 blind persons with guide dogs who were in the Katrina area. We were able to locate all of those people. Some were able to leave with their dogs, some were not. A general comment that we heard from all of them was again no one knew really what to do with the guide dogs and that the guide dog users were the people who knew the best although their opinions were not always considered in final decisions that were made. So what we do here does go beyond the workplace, it goes to society as a whole. And until we're all truly treated as equals, until we're all truly integrated, we'll never truly be safe. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. Thank you very much. What a riveting personal story. Ms. Ibrahim?
MS. IBRAHIM: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you Madam Vice Chair and Commissioners for having me here today. In 1997, while working as an indexer for MacMillan Publishing it was at the headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, a fire broke out on a lower floor of the building. Our company was one of three or four in the building and we occupied several floors. I recall the following: being carried down the stairs by several male coworkers who were in the same area. Every few flights the two men would alternate who would carry me. More than once I was almost dropped, leaving my power wheelchair on the fifth floor. My current chair cost about $9,000 and weighs nearly 300 pounds with me in it. Having to sit in someone's car while we waited for the all clear from the firefighters, I cannot stand on my own or sit without support. Working with staff after the incident to identify an appropriate evacuation device, and I did find several staff who could help me in the event of an emergency, practicing how you use the device and instructing coworkers how to best transfer me into the evacuation chair, as well as participating in a few all employee drills. And finally, discussing how certain situations would be handled; for example, being away from my desk and not having a designated coworker nearby. Following that incident, we were evacuated another time. While it turned out to be a false alarm, we were much better prepared a second time. These experiences and the opportunity to work with several survivors of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon have certainly shaped my interest on this topic. As a Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor, I've had the privilege of working on this initiative for nearly two years. It is my hope that my contribution in this area will help make the workplace safer for millions of Americans.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MS. IMBRAHIM: Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Let me ask fellow Commissioners if you have any questions? Madam Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIR EARP: I do have a couple of questions. Thank you to both of you. Thank you for sharing your story. Mr. Hingson, your story evidences a tremendous amount of personal independence and personal pro-activity. What do you suggest EEOC say to employers about the mutual responsibility for employees and employers to share readiness for emergencies?
MR. HINGSON: I think if I deal with blindness specifically a moment, there's always a discussion about how oriented a blind person should be to their environment and there are some schools of thought about that. Some people say that a blind person can be taught just how to travel from some point A to point B, so how to find their way to the stairwell, to a particular stairwell. There are others of us who believe that, in fact, blind people need to learn how to go from any general point to any other general point and that there are cues that we could use to do that. Employers aren't going to necessarily get into that, but I think that employers and employees alike have to work to make sure that we as workers who happen to be blind, all of us who happen to have a disability, that we all need to discuss how to best make it possible for us to function in the case of an emergency for blind people; how to find all the different stairwells; how to find the various exits to a building, and then to make sure that we know what those exits are. I suggested in my written testimony, for example, that there's this whole concept that's come up called the buddy system. And there are employers who say, well, we'll make sure that their blind employees have a buddy. I think that that should be generalized. The reality is we all can use help in an emergency. My colleague, who I evacuated with, needed my help as much or more in a sense than I needed his because he panicked in places where I did not because I was emotionally prepared, as much as one can be and that's not really great in the case of 9/11, but still I had talked myself into the fact that I might have to deal with an emergency someday. So we both, employers and employees alike need to discuss issues. We need to both accept responsibility. Employers need to make sure I'm oriented to my building, my surroundings, not only how to get out of the building but how to get away from the building, should that need to happen because I can't always guarantee even in a buddy environment that my buddy will be around. In fact, when the second tower collapsed, David, my colleague ran away. All I had was my guide dog and me. And that's perfectly understandable when a 110-story building is coming down on your head, but we were able to reconnect. The fact is that my employer needs to make sure that I am aware and I need to insist on that as well. And if one side does it, the other has to. So it has to be a mutual discussion. It has to be a mutual awareness, and that's where I think the EEOC can help, is to say it's okay to deal with that mutual awareness. It's okay to discuss it. That doesn't imply that the employee is less competent than others who might just be able to see where to go or walk to where they need to go, but the fact of the matter is you don't know how anyone is going to react in a panic and emergency situation, so everyone should have to do it.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you. Ms. Ibrahim, in responding to the recommendation of a buddy system, as a Labor Advisor, what would you say to an employer who adopted that as a technique, and as in your own case almost dropped, someone who's dropped or otherwise hurt by the act of the so-called buddy or the Good Samaritan. What do you say to employers in cases like that?
MS. IBRAHIM: First of all, we would encourage them to have a personal support network and not just a buddy system, to encourage both employers and employees to develop a network of coworkers and others that can assist them in an emergency. Also, we would encourage employees to practice, talk to others about what type of assistance they need in an emergency so that they can freely communicate with first responders and similar personnel. In terms of the Good Samaritan, my recommendation would be, you know, consider me as an employee with a disability wanting to get out of the building just as much as anyone else and I think in that situation there's a lot of grace, if I'm injured in the process, so be it. I'm out of the building safe and I would hope that other people with disabilities would feel the same way.
VICE CHAIR EARP: I'm glad to hear it that this is hopefully not a case where a good deed goes punished. I have just one other question, it's about the evacuation chair. You're probably aware that some jurisdictions, the local fire and rescue operations don't recommend that employers use those.
MS. IBRAHIM: Yes, if you recall the incident happened in 1997 and many advances have been made since then. At the time, we made the best decision and given the information that we had at the time, so.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Okay, thank you.
MS. IBRAHIM: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I have no questions. I just want to thank you for sharing both your stories.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I as well. I thought the stories were very helpful. Thank you very much for coming.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Our next panel is made up of Edwina Juillet, who is the Co-Founder of the National Task Force on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities, and Anne Hirsh, who is the Services Manager for the Job Accommodations Network. Welcome to both of you.
MS. JUILLET: Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: We're glad you're here.
MS. JUILLET: Is there any water, no?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Here's a bottle.
MS. JUILLET: There's plenty of water, it's just…
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: -- we need a buddy system right here.
MS. JUILLET: Before the green light goes on, I want to thank you very much for asking that question. It was a blind gentleman and that was one of the things I wrote in that engineering article about the interviews that was extremely important. My, it's very low.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is that, that the only chair that --
MS. JUILLET: That's fine, thank you. I'm used to being down here.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Well, welcome.
MS. JUILLET: Thank you very much and thank you for asking us. The two topics I'm going to be talking about -- well, the main one is codes and standards. I'm going to be touching on the technology of elevators and also three events that have occurred that I sort of used as date stamping our perception of life safety. I begin in the 1880's when the purpose of building codes was just that, protection of the building. And then in 1911 there was a catastrophic fire, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. Yes, the building withstood the fire, but that fire killed 147 people, mostly very young women. The Triangle fire tragically illustrated that fire inspections and precautions were woefully inadequate. There were locked doors to the stairways, fire escapes that bent under the weight of the fleeing factory workers, water pressure to the hoses too weak to attack the fire on the top floors, and those who waited at the windows to be rescued discovered that the firefighters' ladders were too short to reach them. Some jumped out of the windows rather than wait and perish in the fire. This is the first time that the resulting outcry was heard; that people in buildings must be more valued than the buildings themselves. Now, what happened in New York State was they had a review commission, legislated fire proofing, mainstream use of sprinklers, and new safety standards. Nationally, the National Fire Protection Association introduced their 101 life safety code, mandating means, adequate means of egress. But the early codes did not address all people, only the people who could use the stairs, could hear, see, and understand the alarms would benefit. Accessible means of egress was yet to come. In 1975 began the focus on concern of life safety for people with disabilities during fires and other emergencies in buildings. This concern was precipitated by the mandate for accessibilities by first the Rehabilitation Act and later the ADA. There were myriad special meetings dedicated to discussion of the topic. Here in the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Japan. National standards and model codes here and in those other countries made changes to particular requirements including peoples varying abilities to perceive alarms and to participate in various life safety activities, notably egress. The elevators we use to gain access are taken out of service when an emergency such as a fire or earthquake occurs. Exit stairs, the normal means of emergency egress can only be used with extensive assistance and time delays by wheelchair users and others with severe mobility impairments. Other people with less severe mobility disabilities might need extra time and less crowded conditions to use the stairs without assistance. In 1978, the model code groups considering the issue of egress developed compartmentation language. That was the beginning of the requirement now known as areas of refuge. This is the fire and smoke protection requirement for elevator lobby, which ideally would also include an entrance to the stairway. This was first introduced for approval in 1980. Because of the impetus to get all buildings fully sprinklered, the sprinkler exemption was invoked. It was believed that if a building is fully sprinklered that there is no longer any need to have the compartmentations, the areas of refuge. Well, I as a code committee member, advocated for both sprinklers and the areas of refuge. I protested at a meeting, several meetings, by saying if people who depend on the elevators to access the building will not be afforded the extra time by this compartmentation for elevator or stair-assisted evacuation because of the purported effectiveness of sprinklers, then why not take out the stairs. As the sprinkler exception suggests, there will be no need for anyone to get out and so they stay, you stay. My suggestion was not taken kindly, but I had the satisfaction of opining my opinion, my point-of-view. Well, those battles raged on until 2001. In our post-9/11 world, we no longer can afford the specter of a focus on fires. We must go beyond our previously held assumption that if we plan for a fire in our workplace or buildings we can rest assured that we will have all our bases covered. On September the 18th, 2001, Allan Reich, founding president of NOD, responding to the human cry from his constituents, the disability community, called a special meeting at their headquarters. Now, this is seven days after 9/11, at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. The result was EPI, the Emergency Preparedness Initiative. Even more significant was the appointment of the EPI Director, a trained emergency manager also experienced in emergency planning with and for the special needs of people with disabilities and the elderly. This fall I was thrilled to see the publication of the report which you'll be seeing a lot of today, Preparing the Workplace for Everyone, accounting for the needs of people with disabilities compiled by the ICC and the subcommittee on emergency preparedness in the workplace. Of particular interest to me will be no surprise on page 44 is the rethinking of elevator use policy, thank you Nadia, addressing the progress being made through the collaboration of fire protection and elevator engineers, codes and standards groups, first responders, accessibility experts, and so on. Now, a postscript, I have a publication here, which actually JAN used that was written and published in 1983 by the then President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. The title, Employers are asking about the safety of handicapped workers when emergencies occur. It's comprehensive; the topics covered reflect much of what is currently being written, 1983, that was 22 years ago. What is your prediction for how far we will have progressed 22 years from today? Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Ms. Hirsh?
MS. HIRSH: Thank you. Good morning, Madam Chair, members of the Committee, and distinguished visitors. I'm here today to share the experiences of the job accommodation network as they relate to emergency preparedness and individuals with disabilities in the workplace. As you may know, JAN is a free resource for information regarding job accommodations and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s, Office of Disability Employment Policy. Although we're located in West Virginia University, in Morgantown, West Virginia, where it did snow today, we serve the entire United States via toll-free telephone lines and e-mail. JAN has been in operation since 1984. The service is free of charge to anyone, but the majority of inquiries come from employers, both private and public sector, and individuals with disabilities or limitations of some sort in doing a job. As we've heard today, history has shown that planning for emergency evacuation dramatically increases the chance of successful evacuation. This was clearly illustrated by experiences of some of the 9/11 terrorists -- some from the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. An individual working for the Port Authority on the 68th floor had also been working in that same office during the World Trade Center bombings in 1993. After that incident, the employer developed an emergency evacuation plan. On 9/11 this worker was transferred to an evacuation chair and safely evacuated from the 68th floor. An individual in a wheelchair on the 27th floor and another individual in a chair on the 87th floor had no way to evacuate and are listed among the 2,823 individuals that perished in the attack. Interest in emergency evacuation planning has increased since September 11th terrorist attacks as it did after the '92 bombing. In response, JAN began receiving more calls from employers about their obligation to develop emergency evacuation plans and how to include employees with disabilities in such plans. This presentation addresses what employers and people with disabilities have been asking JAN about emergency evacuation, what prompted the employer or the individual to ask questions and steps for including people with disabilities in emergency preparedness planning. Prior to September 11th, employers and individuals primarily recalling about evacuation issues for individuals with motor or mobility impairments was a small percentage asking for information concerning sensory impairments. The majority of these cases were related to a specific employee need. Many of these reported a particular incident that had prompted the inquiry to JAN. Such incidents included a fire or tornado drill that failed, perhaps left a worker who was deaf in the restroom because there was no visible alarm in the restroom during that drill, a broken elevator, leaving a worker who uses a chair stranded in the building for hours, or perhaps an office relocation to a multi-story building. Only 3.5 percent of the calls prior to 9/11 related to motor or mobility impairments were inquiries about general plans and not specific to an individual employee. JAN call volumes specific to emergency evacuation issues more than doubled immediately after the events of 9/11. The nature of the questions changed as well. Cases now involve questions related to psychiatric sensory and motor impairments. A review of the data shows that there was a dramatic short-term jump in accommodation evacuation questions related to psychiatric issues. These have since tapered off but now remain at a constant level. Callers, both employers and individuals, were asking not only for accommodation information for specific situations and general plans, but were also asking what the laws required them to do. Whether mandatory or voluntary, many employers do develop emergency evacuation plans. In September of 2001, JAN developed a publication titled Employers Guide to Employees with Disabilities and Emergency Evacuation Plans. It references and links to many of the excellent resources that you are seeing here today. In addition, it reviews steps for including people with disabilities and effective emergency planning. Effective planning certainly should include plan development, beginning with identifying accommodation needs like with any accommodation involving that individual and knowing in this situation the individual may have never thought about their own evacuation needs, plan implementation, focusing on distribution of information to employees, to all employees, and plan maintenance, which addresses developing relationships with emergency personnel, practicing and drills, periodically updating training materials, learning from your practices. The employers guide includes ideas on accommodations for individuals with motor, sensory, cognitive, psychiatric and respiratory impairments. In 2002, JAN entered into an agreement with the University of Iowa's Law/Health Policy and Disability Center, or LHPDC for the rest of my talk to conduct an updated and scientifically rigorous study of employers, individuals with disabilities and others who are using JAN's services. In December 2003, the LHPDC started making calls to JAN users who had previously agreed to participate in the survey. Preliminary data from this survey was released in September of 2005, just last month. A closer examination of cases related to emergency evacuation shows that employers are implementing plans and involving individuals with disabilities in those plans. The study has just started to provide specific information about the outcome of cases from employers who contacted JAN about accommodation for emergency evacuation. So far we’ve received data from seven cases. Four were related to specific employee situations and three related to company wide policy and planning issues. Only six weeks after talking to JAN, five of the seven employers decided on an accommodation related to emergency evacuation, four of those were implemented and one is still pending. In all four instances where the accommodation had already been implemented, the employer reported that that accommodation included formal and/or company education of all coworkers. We know employers continue to need information about emergency evacuation and other emergency preparedness issues. JAN is starting to receive accommodation inquiries related to Hurricane Katrina as employees return to work or have been displaced to a different employment situation. We expect to see another spike in emergency preparedness inquiries as employers are once again alerted to the need of advanced planning. It's important that employers and individuals contacting JAN are asked about -- that they are contacting JAN and other entities and asking about emergency planning. Other emergency preparedness issues, such as shelter in-place plans are not in the current line of questioning to JAN, which is a concern. Employers are concerned about getting out the door. Emergency preparedness information related to accommodation is a refined discipline that involves completing research on preparedness related equipment and methods, making emergency preparedness a normal part of the workplace culture for everyone involved and ensuring that training materials make accommodations requests effective. Individuals need to know their responsibility in preparing and planning for emergency situations. It's clear to us that both employers and individuals need to have continued access to accurate and concise information to assist in planning for all types of emergency situations. Thank you very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Ms. Hirsh. Let me open the floor now for questions from my fellow Commissioners. Madam Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIR EARP: No.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Silverman?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: What can employers do to ensure that the emergency related needs of employees with hidden disabilities are met?
MS. HIRSH: That's a difficult one. A lot of people with hidden disabilities are contacting us and have never disclosed the fact that they don't have a problem doing their job. So whatever an employer can do across all facets of their workforce to indicate that they do know how to keep information confidential, that that information is used solely for the emergency evacuation, encouraging the workplace climate like was mentioned earlier, that workplace and emergency preparedness is an issue for everyone and to do so, everyone needs to know how to prepare themselves.
MS. JUILLET: I'd like to add something, Anne, if I may. The Department of Agriculture here in Washington is a sterling example of how the needs of people, employees with disabilities have been incorporated into their general plans, all-hazard emergency planning. And the technique they have used, to answer your question, is that they drill a lot. And their observations from the drills begin to pick out people who have not previously identified themselves but demonstrate some confusion or inability to be able to do the plans properly, follow through on the plans. And delicately these people are more, are brought into the fold. So that is a technique that is currently being used and if you go to their website you can contact them. They are probably one of the better employers in the country in dealing with their employees with disabilities.
MS. HIRSH: That's good to know.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Can I follow-up on that? Do they address it in terms of disability or that a person is having problems, you know, getting through with the plan?
MS. JUILLET: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: They actually put it in a --
MS. JUILLET: The answer is yes to all of the above.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay, good.
MS. JUILLET: Very sensitive.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I had a quick question for Ms. Hirsh. You mentioned that prior to 9/11 you had a 3.5 percent of calls related to emergency planning and then they doubled?
MS. HIRSH: Four years prior to 9/11 we had -- actually, four years post 9/11 our calls have doubled, and --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: And so it's only seven percent now of the calls?
MS. HIRSH: No, no, no, the 3.5 percent was of those people who were calling pre-9/11 that had questions about motor or mobility impairments. Only 3.5 percent of those were asking questions about general plans.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I see.
MS. HIRSH: But the rest were about a specific individual and incident. I mean we certainly always provide information on general plans, but the inquiry was incident --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. I just have -- I'd just like to get both of your thoughts on this. I lived in California many, many years, for many years and I was actually on the 44th floor of Bank of America Corporation when we hit that 6.8 and swayed for 18 seconds, but the State had earthquake day and every employer and every individual was very, very vested on that day. We made sure our supplies were there. We went through the drills and all of that. What are your thoughts? I mean we talk about company specific, individual specific, but where -- what about having something like, you know, if we were on the Gulf Coast, hurricane day or tornado day or something that collectively forces all of us to think about these situations rather than just leaving it to happen stance. Ms. Juillet?
MS. HIRSH: I think it's -- oh, go ahead.
MS. JUILLET: Well, my background is as a professional I'm now retired as healthcare risk management, so what you ask is warming the cockles of my heart. I would -- and you have illustrated how effective that earthquake day is because it brings a community of awareness, not just an individual, but a community of awareness. And it's like a good thought, it spreads, and people begin to talk about it and it's very effective. I would like to see more awareness in a positive sense because when I first started talking about safety 35 years ago to the nursing staff in our hospital, they said, now this is 35 years ago, safety is not my job; my job is taking care of my patients. Well that changed greatly later on, one way or another. And people think of these issues, at least they used to, in a very negative sense. They didn't want to talk about; no, I don't to talk about that, your Scarlet O'Hara comment. But I would like very much to see a focus like this, and if it could be handled very much the way it was done in California, there was also a lot of research being done at the University of California on earthquake safety and the impact on people with disabilities, Dr. Petek, in particular. So I don't think I've given you a positive, I mean a constructive way of answering it, other than the fact that it's extremely effective if kept in the positive context.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I know that it's a nice term to say emergency preparedness and it sounds so fancy and sometimes a little bureaucratic, but when you say earthquake day or hurricane day, people can relate to that really, really well. Ms. Hirsh?
MS. HIRSH: And I think it would be -- what we're having now are natural disaster and terrorist reminders.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
MS. HIRSH: Why not create them ourselves as a reminder to that community awareness.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes. Thank you. Thank you both very much. Our third panel, our third and final, last but certainly not least panel, is made up of Andrew Imparato, the President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Michael Aitken, who is Director of Governmental Affairs, Society of Human Resource Management, and Brian Parsons, Advisor for Employer Policy, Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. Welcome to all three of you. We're glad you're here. And those chairs are kind of low, aren't they? We need to get better chairs; where is our procurement officer? We'll begin with Mr. Imparato.
MR. IMPARATO: Okay, thank you, Madam Chair and Madam Commissioners and Mr. Commissioner. It's great to be back at EEOC. As I think many of you know I was a Special Assistant to Commissioner Paul Miller from '94 to '97, so it's great to be back as a witness. I'm currently the President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. We're a national membership organization for people with all types of disabilities, and our mission is political and economic empowerment for children and adults with disabilities. What I -- I'm going to focus a little bit on kind of the broader context for your topic today. The question that's being asked is is the workplace ready for emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. I want to echo I think what I heard Michael Hingson say which is the broader question, is the workplace ready for people with disabilities more broadly. And I think we've got some recent studies that point to the fact that we still have some pretty significant challenges in that area. We're part of a federally funded research and training center on disability and employment policy with Cornell University and a separate center on disability statistics. And they came out with a report just this month that showed, and this is using the American Community Survey, which is a population based survey that's been asking the same questions only since 2001. So unfortunately the data longitudinally they have just goes 2001 to 2004, but they found that the employment rate of working age people with sensory, physical, mental, and or self-care disabilities decreased from 40.8 percent in 2001 to 38.3 percent in 2004 in the U.S. and that the gap between people with disabilities and people without disabilities increased during that period. Another survey that I wanted to mention in this broader context was a study done by Rutgers, also federally funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. And this was a survey of employers. And this is a 2003 survey, and one of the things that I thought was interesting because this is employers of all sizes, only 26 percent indicated that they had employed at least one person with a physical disability or a psychiatric disability in their workforce at the time that the survey was done. And then trying to explain the possible reasons for lack of representation of people with disabilities, almost one third of the employers said that the nature of the work done by their company was not something that disabled people would be capable of doing. From my perspective this is showing some pretty broad misperception of the diversity of this population and what people with disabilities are capable of doing. The last study which came from the Commission in 2004, and I want to commend the Commission for calling attention to this, was the study of people with targeted disabilities, which is a term of art, people with significant disabilities in the federal workforce and it looked at the period from 1994, fiscal year '94 to fiscal year 2003, and it found that we were actually losing people with targeted disabilities as a percentage of the federal workforce. The population within that category had gone down 20 percent over a ten year period, and that in the period between 1999 and 2003, the rate of decline for employees with targeted disabilities was more than eight and a half times greater than the rate of decline for the federal workforce as a whole. Now, a lot of the folks that work here at the Commission were part of efforts during that period to try to increase employment. We had a federal government as a model employer, working group of a presidential taskforce, unemployment of adults with disabilities. This President has a new freedom initiative that includes emphasizing employment of people with disabilities in the public sector and the private sector, so I bring up these studies to say that we really should be asking this broader question too, are we really ready for people with disabilities in the workforce and what can we be doing more broadly. I also think it's an important backdrop as we look at this question of emergency preparedness because if we're not careful, we may be giving employers another reason not to want to hire a person with a disability to work in a certain environment. And, you know, I think we look at the history of people with disabilities being excluded. I remember Judy Heumann's story. Currently she's the Disability Advisor at the World Bank and one of my board members, but she was excluded from being a teacher; she has a physical disability, mobility impairment. She was excluded from being a teacher because they thought she was going to be a fire hazard. And that's not an unusual story for folks with disabilities, so I think again, it's important to call attention to these issues. Preparedness, I think, is very important, but let's also, particularly as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, make sure that employers are acting based on real information and not based on their own potentially misguided concerns about what might happen in the case of an emergency. I want to commend the Commission for the litigation that you pursued in the DuPont case because to me that's a great example of how the Commission can use its enforcement powers to send a message to the employer community not to overreact to their own concerns about an employee with a disability. In that case, an employee was terminated because of the employer's fears that they would not be able to evacuate in the case of an emergency, and the Commission successfully litigated that case to show that the employer's concerns were not well-founded. And I encourage the Commission to publicize that case and to use similar cases to send a message to the employer community and to employees with disabilities that concerns about evacuation rarely if ever are going to be justification for termination or for not hiring a person. I would also encourage the Commission to consider issuing additional guidance on the limited nature of the direct threat defense in this context. I mean this is supposed to be a narrow defense that employers can use where a person in a particular job poses a significant risk of substantial harm to that person or to somebody else in the workplace that cannot be eliminated or reduced through reasonable accommodation. And I think you've heard from a lot of the other witnesses, what are some things that can be done to limit the potential threat to the employee with a disability. In the guidance that the Commission has issued to employers, I think the employers have asked for what can we ask; what it is okay for us to ask in order to get prepared. And I understand that the guidance is a response to that, but I encourage the Commission to remind employers that a snapshot of your current workforce is not going to tell you everything you need to know to be prepared for an emergency. I think it's worth thinking about how any time you do a survey of your existing employees you're likely to miss new hires, contract workers, employees who might have temporary disabilities that don't show up under reporting of things like psychiatric conditions as been mentioned earlier, also visitors, clients, and customers with disabilities who may be on the premises. And we heard Michael Hingson's story about the guest that happened to be on the premises that day. So it's not to say that it's a bad idea to do surveys, but I think it's important to remind employers that it's worth trying to plan for contingencies that you may not be able to anticipate from just looking at your existing workforce. I appreciate the emphasis of the panel around hidden disabilities. I think a lot of the employers may be asking questions right now that are more focused on mobility related disabilities, but it is worth thinking about. And I had an opportunity to give similar testimony to the Federal Communications Commission. It's worth thinking about, sensory disability issues but also issues for people with intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, and psychiatric disabilities, how information is conveyed in an emergency can have a big impact on how the person receives that information. And I think EEOC could help to eliminate some of those issues for employers.
The last thing that I wanted to emphasize really goes to communicating directly with employees with disabilities. From my perspective, when I worked at the National Council on Disability we did a number of studies of federal enforcement, a variety of disability rights laws. And one of the real messages from me coming out of those studies was the best way to enforce a Civil Rights Law is to have a well educated protected class who knows their rights and knows how to leverage whatever enforcement resources are out there, to assert their rights. I think that's true in this context, but it's true more broadly in the area of disability rights. Right after the ADA was passed, EEOC worked with the Department of Justice to do a series of trainings around the country where you trained trainers who then went on and did more trainings on it so people would know their rights under the ADA. From my perspective, that should be an ongoing role for the federal government. And if we can have a cadre of trainers who can deliver these trainings in different languages and deliver them all over the country, from my perspective, that's a very key way to get people prepared for the emergency issues, but also more broadly for them to know their rights in the workplace. I want to close just by commending Chair Dominguez and all the folks on the current Commission for your leadership on disability issues. The fact sheet that you announced at the beginning today I know is one of a series of fact sheets and I think those fact sheets have been very helpful at giving good basic information for people with a variety of disabilities who are looking for specific information for their disability group. I also want to thank you for your leadership on the state best practices initiative and I'm delighted to learn that a report is going to be coming out imminently from that work as well. So thanks for having me here. It's great to be back.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. I'm going to have to call you Andy because you feel like you're a part of the family here. Thank you so much for being with us today and we appreciate your perspective and your valuable insight into these issues. Mr. Aitken?
MR. AITKEN: Chair Dominguez, Vice Chair Earp, and Commissioners, thank you for this opportunity to speak at this public hearing on emergency preparedness with individuals with disabilities. I appear today on behalf of SHRM, the world's largest association dedicated to Human Resource practices. Since 2002, SHRM, as an organization has had a business continuity plan in place designed to ensure a structure, rapid, and efficient recovery of business operations following a natural disaster or hopefully or not hopefully a terrorist attack. The first principle of our plan is to ensure employee safety and welfare. This effort includes a shelter in place program for circumstances where it's either unsafe for an individual to leave the building or where their egress from the building is blocked. We also have an evacuation plan for employees to be safely expedited out of the building in emergency situations. From the beginning of our efforts to develop this plan, SHRM identified and involved individuals with disabilities in the development of that plan. In addition, our commitment to the plan includes continuously, I know and as Andy mentioned, regularly reviewing all facets of the plan, as well as looking at our current employee workforce to make sure that we're incorporating others that may have come into the workforce since the development and creation of the plan. One of the key components in implementing our plan is the first responder program. This program designates an individual in each department and in each floor of SHRM who's responsible for making sure that everybody within that department either evacuates the building or gets to the shelter in place room. Our first responders are also trained in the assistance or providing assistance to employees with disabilities, including individuals with mobility issues, as well as other types of disabilities. Once we've implemented the plan and they've been trained on those aspects, we do “live fire exercises” where at least a quarter of the entire building is evacuated and they do subsequent training in addition to that, and it's practiced on a regular basis. With regards to some of the recent natural disasters, we at SHRM were more deeply moved by the images we saw and the devastation caused by Katrina and we thought about what our response to that effort should be. And partially, or our main focus, was to provide information. We have our own hurricane website page now and it includes a variety of different information, including links to JAN and other networks, as well as the fact sheet that was mentioned earlier, dealing with individuals, asking about individuals with their medical information that was provided by the EEOC. I will tell you that has been a heavily used website since we launched it, but as evidenced here there's still quite a bit of information that employers need, and I'll talk about that here in a moment. Specifically, with regards to the ADA, while the ADA, as others have mentioned does not require employers covered by the Act to develop emergency preparedness plans for individuals with disabilities, if an emergency plan is put in place, employers must include people with disabilities? According to a survey that we are about to release, called the SHRM 2005 Disaster Preparedness Survey, 60 percent of human resource professionals responded yes to the following question: does your organization have specific guidelines or equipment in place to help evacuate people with disabilities. The results of that data suggest the respondents currently either do not have employees with disabilities currently in their worksite, or that employers may simply be unaware of any of the special accommodations that individuals may need. They haven't asked and they haven't continuously asked or updated their program. As noted earlier, the EEOC has issued a fact sheet on using employee medical information; however, because of the requirements in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, as we all call it, and the Commission's own guidance, employers are highly sensitized to protecting the confidentiality of medical information. And although the EEOC provides some examples to that, albeit limited with regards to confidentiality and how that might be asked, we don't think it's as helpful as it could be. And one of the questions that was mentioned previously is employers aren't sure how to ask this type of information particularly if somebody hasn't self identified, trying to get out if somebody needs a special accommodation. In addition, we would suggest that the Commission provide some further guidance, maybe some examples. I liked Andy's suggestion of not just encouraging employers, but even employees to be able to go forward to their employers on how to request those types of accommodations in those situations. I thought that would be helpful as well. We also think that there could be additional guidance and reminders with regards to working with other agencies and departments and I heard the comments about working with the ICAC. Well, one of the things that, and I think one of the earlier panels commented about, was the area of refuge requirements under Title II and Title III. As I understand it, I'm not an expert in that area of the ADA, that there's actually language in place that discourages individual employers from evacuating people from those areas of refuge under certain circumstances. So there might need to be some coordination and guidance and information in that area so that individuals if they do need to be removed from the building that that's understood as to how that goes about. And last, but not least, again with regards to the ICAC, I think one of the most important things that that group can do is that any information that comes out is coordinated. Often what we see is sometimes conflicting advice and information when it comes out from the different agencies, and having either a one-stop shop within the Department of either Homeland Security or FEMA to provide that information so folks and employers could go to that and not have to search through the various different websites to make sure they're in compliance with all the different regulations. With that, I'll conclude my formal remarks and be happy to answer any questions when we get to that point.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. We'll table the questions until we hear from Mr. Parsons, and then we'll open it up for questions.
MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Madam Chair, members of the Commission. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Brian Parsons; I'm going to be speaking to you in my capacity as Chair of the ICC Workplace Subcommittee. In the first year of the subcommittee and under the Executive Order, acknowledgement was made that the federal government in providing leadership in this area needed to start by essentially, with the federal government's own house; looking internally at the preparedness of federal agencies as employers. So one of the first things that we started out of the box within about ten months of work was to try to glean together the various best practices or, as we like to call them, effective practices in the area of emergency preparedness, recognizing that thus far our work has focused on the preparedness side of the continuum, we are recognizing, particularly after Katrina and Rita, the need to be looking at the whole response and recovery and long-term recovery as it relates to employment. That's sort of in our next to come generation of work. I am pleased to say that as a result of our first year of work, we were able to develop a compendium of effective practices in the form of a tool that can be used by federal agency planners at both the national, regional, and office level. And so I submit to you today, which has been referred to already by a couple of speakers this preparing the workplace for everyone, Framework of Guidelines document. This will move us a long way toward at least ensuring that the federal agency and employer plans have in fact been taking into consideration the unique needs and perspectives of employees with disabilities. I wanted to point out for you a couple aspects that I think are very unique about this new tool, and that has to do with the fact that over 20 federal agencies actively participated in its creation. It was fine-tuned to be a reader-friendly user document. No guidance is going to be usable if it sits on a shelf, so we fully intended to reach people where they need it and to put it into action. We see it as a launching point for federal agencies as they go about the process of assessing their emergency plans, as required under the Executive Order. The Framework of Guidelines contains guiding principles that should be thought through as somebody is working through the document, critical questions to sort of boil it down and to reflecting with ones self as to how we're doing and then approaching others with those questions. And then finally, and perhaps most importantly, providing examples from an array of federal agencies that cover this whole myriad of best practices. As the last speaker for you today, I have the sort of challenge and opportunity I guess to highlight a number of the practices that other folks have talked about, the things that are stressed within the context of this Framework of Guidelines. It is key to have the top level management support within an organization with respect to this topic. It's not going to go far at all if it doesn't start with the top, and that's been echoed over and over again in the case of places where it is happening well, likewise with the need to involve key stakeholders, starting of course with individuals with disabilities as employees, working with first responders directly in the planning process and having open lines of communication. It is also vital to take a look at the environment in which the office is situated. This is something, perhaps, that wasn't mentioned earlier. Just as the needs related to each individual are different, the needs related to each physical office space are different, and for those offices both within the public and private sector that share office space, there is a strong tendency toward confusion as to who has responsibility for the overall emergency planning activity for that building. So it's vital to be talking with occupants within the same building. A couple other high points for you, the emphasis on the development of personal support networks as opposed to reliance on a single buddy. This is something that has come up very strongly within the last couple of years as we have been doing this work.
Also, as the employee and employer are engaging in discussion around need, the topic of equipment is one that here again is not a one-fix-meets-all circumstance but is very individualized, both to the employee and to the uniqueness of that space. As there are various equipment options, it should be evaluated uniquely in every circumstance.
The importance of communication is vital, redundant, timely, and effective communication in all forms. And that has to do with at the time of alert. It also has to do prior to an emergency in terms of how are the plan documents communicated, are they in accessible formats, is there open line of communication that involves people with disabilities directly in the fabric of the work.
We talked already today about the reconsideration of the use of elevators, a vital discussion that must be had so that we can remove the thinking that categorically elevators are not to be used. There are all kinds of evacuations and shelter-in-place scenarios that do involve things like vertical and horizontal evacuation, where all kinds of out-of-the-box thinking can be employed.
Also, the emphasis on practice, both changing the time and the type of practice is absolutely critical. Those agencies, those organizations who have had the most success are those that have put it on the ground as much of a pain as it is for everybody, actually doing it and making it happen.
I wanted to finish with a couple of comments as to things that we see within the Workplace Subcommittee as being our next steps and things that we think the EEOC would be critical in helping us do.
The EEOC staff was very, very helpful to us in the creation of the framework document. Some of the guidance summarizations in there relative to what the employer and employee responsibilities are are directly attributable to the work the EEOC staff helped us with.
As we move this out, both within the federal sector, down to the regional and office level, and then ultimately into the private sector in this upcoming year, we have the opportunity to work with a number of players that can help us identify key employer organizations to get the word out and also to identify and document the effective practices that are unique and, perhaps most importantly, the examples because employers of one ilk speak likewise to employers of another ilk. To the extent that we can have examples from the private sector to meet the needs of private sector organizations, that is going to be critical.
And that concludes my remarks for today. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Parsons. Let me open the floor now for questions of our panel members. Madam Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIRPERSON EARP: Thank you.
A comment, actually, Mr. Parsons, final thoughts about one employer of an ilk speaks to employers of that same ilk. I'm just thinking that SHRM in working with its members could consider industry because hopefully some of the practices would be transferable, employers with similar types of industries.
I like the Chair's idea about an earthquake day to raise awareness, but I think also if there are things that could be explored while we are looking at them from the Commission's point of view, I’d certainly like to ask SHRM to be a partner with us on this and look from the employer point of view across industry lines.
MR. AITKEN: We would certainly be happy to do so.
VICE CHAIRPERSON EARP: Thanks.
CHAIRPERSON DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Silverman?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Andy, has your organization seen an increase in situations similar to the one in the DuPont case where an employer is using emergency preparedness as a reason for not hiring, terminating, or downgrading an individual?
MR. IMPARATO: Well, it's something that we worried about in the aftermath of September 11th. And it's something that we continue to worry about. I don't have a good feel of the trend. I think you all might have a better feel just in terms of the charges that you're getting.
But to the extent that this is happening in a failure-to-hire context, as you know, it's very hard for people to know why they weren't hired. So to me it's just something that we kind of want to be on the lookout for. I don't think that the scale of this kind of discrimination is like a discrimination that happened against Muslims or people who look Muslim after September 11th, but it's something that we want as a caution.
And, again, it's being cognizant of the history that one reason that people with disabilities have been excluded historically from lots of settings was the fire hazard concern.
I remember when we did Justin Dart's memorial service. The minister at the church got a little nervous when it became clear how many people were in that building. And if his primary concern was whether we would be able to get out. In the case of a fire, I'm not sure we could have had that memorial service there.
So to me it's a balance. And I think you've got a lot of good advice today about best practices. I just wanted to give the caution that if EEOC especially is not aware of this potential danger, you know, we may play into some fears that are not well-founded in the employer community.
CHAIRPERSON DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Ishimaru?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Parsons, do you see any difference between your work here in the federal sector versus what’s in the private sector? Does it have the same type of application?
MR. PARSONS: Yes, sir. I'll answer both yes and no on that one. I would say that the attitudinal concerns, the real fears that both employers and employees have, is a common thread across the sectors.
And, in fact, I was going to build on Andy's comments. Last year our office held a series of nationwide focus groups with HR managers and executive officers within companies within the private sector. And concern around safety in time of emergency was one of, say, the top six or seven sort of concern areas that were bluntly talked about sort of behind one-way glass among focus group folks who were putting it out on the table. So that was an interesting finding.
With respect to differences between the two sectors, I would say there are operational differences because there are laws that govern the two workplaces differently. Within the federal world, you have the occupant emergency plan requirements of the General Services Administration and various guidance that comes down through the Rehabilitation Act. And in the private sector, of course, you have the ADA guidance. There are commonalities obviously, but every office environment does have its nuances.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But I would assume the principles that have come out of your work --
MR. PARSONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- and especially from the excellent publication you came up with can be broadly applied.
MR. PARSONS: Yes. And that is our hope to literally build off of this as a framework to move it into the private sector. I think what will make it have more stick is where we take those same principles and best practices and cite examples from the private sector itself.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Mr. Aitken, can you give us more of a feel for the makeup of the society, the members in the society? A whole range of businesses, I would assume?
MR. AITKEN: It's a range. And even to that question, what was interesting is I can give you a breakdown of what the percentages were that responded to that question. Eighty-three percent of the large employers responded yes to that question.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: To having a plan.
MR. AITKEN: And that was 500 or more. Sixty-four percent of medium employers responded yes to that question. And it was 100 to 499. And then one to 99 were small employers. And that's where the drop-off was, about 33 percent.
I would just add in echoing in addition to reaching out to the employer community, I think there's a couple of communities that are sometimes overlooked in terms of this information. One, if I'm not mistaken, when TRIA was enacted -- that's the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act -- there were requirements that buildings must have evacuation plans if they're going to be covered under that.
It would seem to me that reaching out to some of the disaster preparedness groups and reminding them of these requirements with regards to ensuring that individuals with disabilities and employees with disabilities are considered in the development of that plan would be helpful.
I will tell you -- and I won't mention their names, but when I was preparing for this testimony, I asked two employment attorneys that are very familiar with the ADA. One would call them experts about, you know, the requirements to include and have pieces in an evacuation plan with disabilities. They both looked at me with blank stares to begin with and then immediately realized, oh, yes, they're under reasonable accommodation.
So it wasn't something that they thought of immediately in the planning and aspect. And I think there's really a lack of understanding and appreciation at times, getting to what Andy and others have said. And so an awareness-raising effort I think is called upon.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Certainly this hearing is a wonderful start to that.
Mr. Imparato, you had mentioned about the work we do. And we do a good job in reaching out to employers and letting them know what their rights and responsibilities are. And certainly when the ADA started and when the ADA was drafted, there was a large effort, especially for a civil rights bill, to make sure that there was outreach also to users.
How can we do a better job at that? What sorts of things should we be doing? Should we be out there, you know, on the streets meeting with folks to let them know what their rights are under the law and responsibilities as well?
MR. IMPARATO: Thank you for that question and I feel like this Commission has been aggressive in reaching out to disability organizations, you know, speaking at conferences and things like that. The piece to me that is missing, and to me this is not the EEOC's responsibility, this is a broader federal responsibility, but the regular training, the development of user friendly materials for non-lawyers that get updated regularly and they get produced in different languages. I really like the outreach initiative you have going on towards young people. I think it has a special emphasis on sexual harassment issues right now, but that model could be developed more broadly. I just -- people find themselves in the workplace and they don't know their rights. And again, from doing this study at NCD it really hit home for me that the best way, the people who are out there on the front-lines enforcing every civil rights law are the people that protect the class, and if they don't know their rights and they don't know what enforcement resources are out there for them to leverage, you know, the government's only going to skim the service in terms of what's going on. So I encourage the Commission also to leverage technology. I mean I think there are opportunities that we have now in terms of disseminating information electronically with broadband deployment, having video that people can download off of websites; I just think there is a lot more that we can do to get basic information about people's rights in the workplace out. And people's rights beyond the workplace out to the protected class.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: It certainly has changed in the last 15 years since the ADA was signed into law. Madam Chair, I would have one request. I know there were efforts to try to get businesses here to actually testify and I know that couldn't work out, but I hope we would have some follow-up with actual businesses and their experiences because I think that would be helpful for our knowledge about what's going on in the private sector. And I hope there's some way we can either incorporate that into this work or to do a further hearing on it, but I think people do have good stories to tell and I'm looking forward to learning those.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I like that very much. In fact, we spoke with Deborah Baggett. Some of you may know her. She is the Disability Director for Merck and there's a whole consortium of employers who have done some phenomenal things that I like very much, and with the timing issue and logistical issue for many of them, but there is a lot of information and a lot of work going on, and so I'd very much like to supplement the information that we've gathered through this meeting with additional information that we can glean from them. And I'm sure Mike, with SHRM, you can also help us on that front.
MR. AITKEN: Certainly.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: But I just wanted to, first of all, thank you for your very kind remarks about the work of the Commission and I wanted to take the opportunity to recognize our Associate Legal Counsel who really has been doing a lot of work in this area, and that's Chris Kuczynski. He and his team and the Office of Legal Counsel have just done a phenomenal job and, you know, sometimes it feels like taking the Himalayas a spoonful at a time because there's so much work to be done. But if anybody can do it, they can, and I just wanted to publicly recognize Chris and his team. And I also want to thank all of you for sharing your stories, for sharing your strategies. You know, I was thinking about the Titanic and how people thought it was indestructible and therefore they didn't even carry enough life vests. And then I thought about the buildings and the fact that people back then were about protecting the building and not the people, so when you put it in perspective we have come a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go. And I think when it relates to people with disability, the one thing we have to recognize is, as you have so eloquently expressed, is that everyone's needs are different. And so we have to treat the individual with the same uniqueness as we treat the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act on a case-by-case basis on a condition-by-condition basis. And if there's anything to take away from this, and it's been the running theme of this meeting is that we won't really fully integrate and ensure the complete preparation of the work place until we ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels and in all areas of employment. And until then we'll have a lot of work left to do. So thank you very much, all of you, for being here. And there being no further business, do I hear a motion to adjourn this meeting?
VICE CHAIR EARP: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All in favor?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed? The ayes have it and the motion is carried and the meeting is adjourned. Thank you.
(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded.)
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