Philadelphia Employment Law News

ADA Helps Blind Philadelphia Teacher See What's Best for Kids

Harriet Go is a blind Philadelphia teacher that has just been awarded a scholarship by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to help her complete a master's degree in reading and literacy, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Go has been awarded the scholarship once before while attending Temple, where she graduated summa cum laude.

Jim Antonacci, president of the NFB, stated that it is incredibly rare for a person to win the scholarship twice and that it is a large honor to receive, writes the Inquirer. Go uses her great talents to teach learning disabled children to read, spending her summers leading a summer camp for the blind and demonstrating braille to Boy Scouts.

All this raises the question of whether Go would be in the same position if the school system had not made accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA requires that all employers make "reasonable accommodations" to allow those with disabilities access to all jobs. Reasonable accommodations include things like modifying work schedules, providing new or modified equipment, and even restructuring a job description.

An accommodation becomes unreasonable when it creates an "undue hardship" on the employer. An undue hardship can be an extreme financial burden to create the accommodation, or an extreme difficulty in implementing the accommodation, and it differs widely depending on the type of employment.

If an employer does not provide reasonable accommodations they can be civilly liable under a discrimination lawsuit. If for some reason, the school district did not want to accommodate an award-winning teacher that provided exceptional instruction to children with learning disabilities, Ms. Go would have a clear cut discrimination suit against the district. Her strongest argument would be that any accommodations needed would be so inexpensive and easy to provide that the only reason not to hire or continue to employ her would be to discriminate against her.

Instead, Harriet Go and 6 other blind Philadelphia teachers continue to go above and beyond to teach their students, begging the question of whether use of the term "disabled" is proper.

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