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Archive for March, 2012

Civil Rights Training: Complaint Investigations and Compliance

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Attorney and award-winning author, Seena Foster, is a Partner with Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia. In this capacity, she offers a variety of civil rights workshops for state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, companies that operate federally funded programs and activities, and private employers. Workshops are tailored to meet the needs of the agency or organization and cover a variety of topics such as:

√ properly conducting discrimination complaint investigations
√ achieving compliance with federal civil rights laws
√ handling complaints of harassment and hostile environment
√ responding to requests for reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification

Whether you operate federally funded programs and activities in workforce development, education, transportation, arts and humanities, law enforcement, fair housing, or any other area, Ms. Foster can meet your training needs. Shirley Wilcher, Executive Director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, described a recent webinar conducted by Ms. Foster on compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for Colleges and Universities as “excellent.”

To learn more about Ms. Foster and the services she offers, go to www.titleviconsulting.com, or you may contact her directly at seena@titleviconsulting.com.

“Auxiliary Aids and Services Available on Request to Persons With Disabilities”

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

If you operate or administer federally funded programs and activities, or if you are a state or local government agency, federal civil rights laws require that you include the foregoing notice on all publications, broadcasts, and other communications. These federal laws are the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. The idea here is that persons with sensory, manual, or speaking disabilities are entitled to nondiscrimination and an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, programs or activities funded by the United States government.

What are some examples of written communications that must include this notice?

The “auxiliary aids and services” notice must be included on a variety of written materials, including:

√ outreach materials
√ recruitment materials
√ orientation packets
√ brochures
√ written advertisements
√ application, registration, and enrollment forms
√ participant and employee manuals and handbooks

Take a look at the written and electronic materials that you distribute to staff, clients, and the public. Make sure these communications contain the “auxiliary aids and services” notice. An easy and inexpensive fix for written communications that do not currently provide the notice is to create computer-generated labels and affix these labels to the communications.

What does “auxiliary aids and services” involve?

Auxiliary aids and services encompass a wide variety of tools that you may use to assist persons with disabilities, including:

√ qualified readers
√ notetakers
√ taped texts
√ audio recordings
√ brailled materials
√ large print materials
√ equipment, devices, and software (such as assistive hearing devices, speech recognition software, and so on)
√ TDD/TTY or telephone relay service. Keep in mind here that any communication containing your telephone number must also include the TDD/TTY number or the number of the relay service you use. You must also make sure these numbers are operational and staff is trained regarding their use.
√ Qualified sign language interpreters

It is important to remember that any “auxiliary aid or service” must be provided at no charge to the individual with a disability.

What are your obligations to communicate to individuals with disabilities?

You have the obligation to “effectively” communicate with persons who have mobility, hearing, and visual impairments. “Effective” communication means it gets the job done. Often, this may be accomplished through use of auxiliary aids and services. And, keep in mind that:

√ You must provide persons with disabilities information as to the existence and location of accessible services, activities, and facilities; and

√ You must post the international symbol for accessibility at each primary entrance to an accessible facility. For inaccessible facilities, you must provide signage at the primary entrances, which directs folks to a location where they may obtain information about accessible facilities. See 41 C.F.R. § 101-19.6.

To whom do you have these obligations?

You are obliged to offer “auxiliary aids and services” to a variety of categories of persons with disabilities, including:

√ beneficiaries
√ registrants
√ applicants
√ eligible applicants and eligible registrants
√ participants
√ applicants for employment (for example, you may
need to provide accommodation for the interview
process, such as a qualified interpreter when
interviewing persons with hearing impairments)
√ members of the public

In determining the type of auxiliary aid or service to provide, you must give primary consideration to the request of the individual with a disability. A request for an “auxiliary aid or service” constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification. Such a request must be reviewed and considered on a case-by-case basis; you cannot impose “blanket” policies or procedures. And, while you may consider “undue hardship” in providing accommodation, the process for considering a reasonable accommodation request is an interactive one and, in the end, you are obliged to provide an accommodation that is “effective.”

What are the obligations of private employers?

So far, we have focused on the obligations of entities that administer and/or operate federally funded programs and activities as well as the obligations of state and local governments with regard to persons with disabilities. Turning to private employers, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provide guidance for employers of 15 or more employees.

While private employers are not required to have the “auxiliary aids and services” notice on all their communications, these employers are prohibited by federal civil rights laws from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities” with respect to the terms, conditions, and privileges of their employment. Discrimination may occur in a variety of employment practices, such as:

√ hiring and firing
√ job application procedures
√ job assignment
√ training
√ promotions
√ wages
√ benefits (including health insurance)
√ leave

A “qualified individual with a disability” is an individual who: (1) meets the bona fide occupational requirements (i.e., legitimate skill, education, and experience requirements for the job); and (2) can perform the “essential functions” of the job (otherwise defined as the core duties that are the reason for existence of the job position). The person with a disability must meet these two criteria even without accommodation to be deemed “qualified.” On the other hand, a private employer is prohibited from disqualifying this person on grounds that s/he is unable to perform marginal or incidental job functions. See also prior paper titled, “The Meaning of Disability.”

If a “qualified individual with a disability” requests accommodation, the private employer must consider the accommodation request. Accommodation requests may take the form of:

√ requesting an auxiliary aid or service as described above
√ restructuring a job
√ modifying or adjusting the work environment
√ making existing facilities accessible to, and useable by, persons with disabilities
√ modifying work schedules
√ reassigning a current employee to a vacant position for which the employee is qualified

The purpose of providing reasonable accommodation is to allow the qualified individual with a disability the opportunity to contribute fully in the workplace and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.

A private employer should give consideration to a person’s accommodation request, but the employer is not required to provide accommodation if it would create “undue hardship.” Under hardship is an action that constitutes “significant difficulty or expense” in relation to the size of the employer, the employer’s resources, and the nature of the employer’s operation. This may also involve health and safety concerns; specifically, the individual poses a “direct threat” to self and/or others. Accommodation requests and considerations of undue hardship must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Seena Foster is an attorney and award-winning author of “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI-Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination.” She is also a Partner with Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, VA. You may visit her website at www.titleviconsulting.com.