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Disability “Privilege”

2014-10-23

Disability accommodations tend to be seen as special privileges, as political correctness acting to deliberately lower the bar for people who aren’t qualified and thus shouldn’t be present. Superficially, a person who is not able to perform as required is not qualified, and thus should not be hired or admitted. Changing the parameters in order to account for that person’s deficiency, essentially giving that person “an extra hand” which nobody else is permitted, smacks of special treatment.

When looking for a department manager, you don’t hire the person who failed their MBA when you have six other people just as good who passed theirs. Nobody would give this person help so that he could do that job. That would be entirely ridiculous and defeat the point of hiring a manager.

That difference obviously affects how well he would perform the job. Disability differences, on the other hand, are not issues that change how well a person can perform a job. Some things can’t be adjusted–a completely blind person would have difficulty playing American football, for instance–but most things can be adjusted without approaching the level of concessions required to call it “unqualified”.

Think of a person who’s missing a hand applying as an office assistant. Typing on a desktop keyboard would be slowed, and perhaps that person would rightly not have been hired when typewriters were the only instrument we had. Today, though, we have dictation software and touch interfaces to get around those issues. The only reason to object now is the cost of acquiring those things, which is a peevish bottom-line concern rather than an actual objection to the accommodations and disability itself. Ethically, there’s no reason to treat disability as a deficiency when compared to a standard applicant.

The same logic applies for disabilities that need other people to adapt slightly instead of ones that require adaptation on only the disabled person’s part. Again, ethically, it’s a small change–a reasonable request–to ask that offices and stores be built with wheelchair accessibility. Even if the work you do can’t be adapted to an employee in a wheelchair, there’s still clients and customers who would need it. If a fast food restaurant has customers sit down while their order is fulfilled, it’s not much to ask that they provide both a visual and an audible notification that an order is ready so that both vision impaired and hearing impaired customers will know when they’re done. Perhaps that requires a bit more spending for an electronic sign, and a bit of time for an employee to announce which order is up. Again, those are small concessions when weighed against the ethics of denying service.

If the only consideration is to maximize profit and cut out any “fripperies”, then certainly a business could cut out these accommodations and still turn a hefty profit. Disabled people aren’t that big a portion of the population, and most would probably still spend the money and deal with the challenges presented by lacking accommodations. Some would be able to find enough work to support themselves. But if profit is the only measure that matters, there’s something seriously wrong with your business practices. You’d not measure a person solely by their assets and salary; you’d want to know what their values are, what their beliefs are, how they treat people who think differently than they do. Surely you agree that a person’s finances say very little about whether you’d want to share space with them, let alone anything more intimate. Even if you’d hang around just for the money, you’re assuming that they’re decent enough to offer to pay for anyone but themselves–and that they’d expect to pay for things at all instead of being given it for free, because they may believe being rich entitles them to it. Plus, why would you even think they’d tolerate you, someone who is so far below them? Might be they only allow people of their own caliber into their presence.

Unless you’ve got that kind of disgusting tunnel-vision for money, you care about other measurements of value. Yes, there is a line past which it’s ridiculous to expect accommodations–ie, the extreme situation of making the retail store into a clean room and putting everyone in hazmat suits so that a person with a nonexistent immune system can be hired–but, as stated, that is an extreme situation. Most needs are one-time alterations or small changes. A minimal sense of ethics requires that they be accommodated.

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