The New York City Fire Department's new cadet program has produced the most race and gender integrated class of fire recruits in the department's recent history. The new class of recruits includes 40 of 141 who are women or members of minority groups. Currently, the department is 94% white, and includes less than 50 women out of over 12,000 members.
Source: New York Times, November 16, 2000
The ADA and You
A recent news item in a Denver paper detailed the fire career of Johnny King, a long-time volunteer member of the Castlewood Fire Department and in the years prior to his recent death from a heart attack, a career training officer with the Parker Fire Department. Mr. King, a Vietnam veteran, was also a double amputee, missing both legs.
A recent magazine article described the career of Doug Blevins, kicking coach for the Miami Dolphins. Mr. Blevins, a four year veteran with the team, was born with cerebral palsy, and has spent his life confined to a wheelchair.
Although these two examples are not direct results of the recent legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are good illustrations of how perceptions will be changing as a result of that law. There was a time when fire departments and emergency services organizations eliminated candidates from consideration for employment just because it perceived them to be unqualified. If a person was missing part of a foot or hand, for example, that person could be disallowed from even testing for the job.
No more. The ADA, currently being clarified through numerous lower court cases, no longer allows such generalized rejections of people because of disability, if reasonable accommodation can be made for that person's condition within the work environment.
The law is complicated, and anyone facing an ADA challenge should seek legal counsel that has specific experience with this law. The law is also being clarified on a nearly daily basis. In one recent case, a federal court ruled that a woman's belligerent attitude and poor interpersonal skills were a result of clinical depression, a condition covered by the ADA. The court ordered that she be reinstated in her position with accommodation.
Don't think you are immune from ADA claims because you are running a fire or police agency. Such a belief can be very costly to the organization in the long run. Instead, adopt a proactive attitude. Do a job analysis to identify key requirements of each position. Identify areas where accommodation could be made. Most importantly, learn about the law and be prepared. It is likely that every employer, including those in fire and police services, will have to deal with the ADA, and sooner rather than later.
Sources: Fast Company, September 2000
The Denver Post, November 2000
The Legal Intelligencer, December 13, 2000
© Linda F. Willing, 2000