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Providing TA the DBTAC way

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Guided by a cross-section of individuals with and without disabilities representing disability, business, and government entities, the Southeast Disability & Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) works with a distinguished ADA Leadership Network (Network) to expand and strengthen ADA capacity within the Southeast Region. The Network is staffed by experienced disability advocates, who have both professional and personal experience with disability. As private individuals, people representing the DBTAC may take a variety of personal actions to encourage ADA implementation in their communities. However, for purposes of the DBTAC program, people representing the DBTAC Network are required to provide unbiased –or advocacy-neutral—information about the ADA. As Sergeant Friday said on Dragnet: "Just the facts, ma’am; nothing but the facts."

Giving accurate and complete responses to ADA inquiries is important to helping others understand and comply with the ADA. And, as a DBTAC Network member, we must remain neutral in our delivery of information and technical assistance activities. We strive to ensure that information and technical assistance encourages voluntary compliance with the ADA. We do not threaten, coerce, or otherwise intimidate customers into compliance. Our role is to provide factual information—not to take advocacy actions.

Providing Quality Services

The ADA is about "making decisions." Therefore, our responses should help others make "informed decisions" about the action steps they will take to comply with the ADA. Here are some guidelines to help you.

• If you communicate properly that the ADA is civil rights legislation and benefits everyone, and if you direct people to the appropriate ADA materials, you will provide a great service. If, on the other hand, you answer ADA questions without also explaining the appropriate legislative context or make statements without a solid foundation of knowledge on your part, or if you let your personal agenda influence your response, you can create much misunderstanding and resentment of the ADA.

• Don’t let yourself be drawn into situations where people are forcing you to make decisions for which they need to take responsibility. Please remember that you are not a judge or jury who can render a decision. Nor can you direct people as to what is "readily achievable" for them, or what the proper "reasonable accommodation" for an employee is. You also are not the one to decide what program modifications or barrier removal a public or private entity has to take.

• Your greatest contribution to ADA implementation will be to respond to inquiries by providing answers that are directly supported by the written materials in your ADA Reference Library. Remember this maxim: "If you can’t point to it in print, don’t say it."

Responding to ADA inquiries requires a highly specific thought process. It is very important to recognize that there is a certain sequence of questions you must ask in order to arrive at the correct ADA answer. You will find the following outline a great help when you are answering ADA questions, so please take some time and familiarize yourself with the key points.

1. Verify that the ADA applies. Too often people are afraid to ask or challenge someone’s claim to have an ADA issue and do not verify that the ADA actually applies. If an individual is involved, first establish that the person has a disability that meets the standard as defined under the ADA. Many situations arise where people say that they have a disability but their condition does not qualify as a disability for purposes of ADA protection. Not only should you know and be able to explain what qualifies as a disability under the ADA, but you should also let people know that in situations where a disability is not obvious, it is permissible to require verification of their disability status.

2. Get the facts. Be sure you have all the facts. Ask the questioner lots of questions. Be sure you get as many of the circumstances surrounding the issue as possible.

A common problem we all run into is listening and then responding to a problem -- only to find out later that the situation does not qualify under the ADA! Another related problem is that many people misuse the ADA to accomplish something for their personal agenda or to make unreasonable requests. This illegitimate use of the ADA makes the ADA less effective for those people with legitimate conditions for which the ADA was enacted. Determine which title(s) apply.

3. Determine Which Title Applies After assuring that a situation does qualify for ADA protection, you need to determine which of the five Titles applies to the question. Determine whether the issue is an employment issue, a Title II or Title III issue, etc.—or is not an ADA issue at all.

Remember in particular that there are critical differences in the ADA between the requirements for Title II and Tile III. The key in determining if an issue falls under Title II or Title III relates to the ownership of the entity that is alleged to have committed a discriminatory action against a person with a disability. Is the entity a private for profit or nonprofit business or corporation? If so, then it is a Title III issue. If the organization in question is a public school, city or county operation or an instrumentality of a state, city, or county, then it is a Title II issue.

Don’t let funding sources obscure your analysis of ownership. Many private entities receive federal, state, or local governmental funding but that does NOT change their status as a Title III operation.

4. Gather Appropriate Materials and Resources Once you have identified the relevant ADA area of the question, pull out the appropriate reference materials and turn to that particular section. If you do not recall quickly where to find the answer, tell the questioner you will research the question and call back. Always call back if you make such a promise! Give the individual the answer you have found in the materials and give the answer without embellishing it. Most people simply want an answer, not a lecture.

5. Document your Calls And finally, each time you provide technical assistance, remember to complete a Contact Summary Report. This Report is an invaluable tool for reconstructing issues you discussed and for completing your monthly reports

Author: Shelley Kaplan, Sally Weiss, Pamela Williamson
Affiliation: Southeast DBTAC
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