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The Team at ALSO

April 27, 2023

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Oregon Disability Rights: Everything You Need to Know

Are you interested in learning important facts about disability rights in the State of Oregon?

Whether you are living with an intellectual or developmental disability, are a family member or friend of people with disabilities, or if you work with individuals who have a disability, you have definitely come to the right place!

ALSO has passionately and actively worked for the rights of people with disabilities since 1997. We are state and national leaders of supportive services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

We know that the specifics of disability rights in the United States can be quite complex. That’s why we will outline below several important facts about disability laws and regulations in Oregon, as well as the federal laws that cover our entire country.

What Do Disability Rights Look Like in Oregon?

Oregon state law is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed in 1990, it’s a civil rights law that serves to ensure that those living with disabilities have equal opportunity in the normal aspects of daily life, such as:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Medical care
  • Public accommodations

A major difference between the ADA and Oregon law is the support for equal opportunities in employment. For example, federal law applies to businesses that employ 15 or more employees. Oregonians, on the other hand, are protected from disability discrimination if organizations employ six or more employees.

Disability rights advocates (including  self-advocates) work tirelessly with Oregon state officials and policymakers to make strides in many areas of employment law. For example, in August of 2022, due to a settlement in the case of Lane vs. Brown, Oregon was recognized by the United States Commission on Civil Rights as a national leader in transitioning people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from sub-minimum wage sheltered workshops to fully integrated competitive employment.

READ MORE: The role of the US Department of Justice and the US District Court of Oregon in the landmark settlement agreement of Lane vs. Brown.

Common Disability Rights FAQs

1. What laws exist to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, housing, and more?

In addition to the ADA and Oregon’s employment laws, other disability laws have paved the way for progressively better opportunities for people with disabilities. Here is some general information about a few of these regulations:

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Prohibiting discrimination of individuals with disabilities in all federally funded programming. It authorized the use of vocational rehabilitation services, independent living centers, and client assistance to ensure equal access to federally funded schools and programs.

Fair Housing Act (as amended in 1988) – Makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability. It applies to owners of private housing, as well as state and federally funded programs.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (formerly the Handicapped Children Act of 1975) – Requires that children with disabilities receive a free public education that appropriately meets their individual needs. It requires the development and yearly review of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). It’s considered a legal document that targets the specific educational needs of students.

The Telecommunications Act (as amended in 1996) – Would you believe that the initial legislation goes all the way back to 1934? These regulations allow access to a broad range of cell phones, augmentative communication, and other devices. The legislation emphasizes that technology must be readily achievable. But with so many technological advances occurring in the 21st century, almost anything is possible.

2. How is “a person with a disability” defined by state and federal laws?

The ADA adopted the following definition:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Has a history or record of such an impairment, or…
  • Is perceived by others as having such an impairment

Major life activities may include and are not limited to self-care, performance of manual tasks, communicating, or interacting with others.

Although the ADA does not define specific types of disabilities, some examples include cerebral palsy, autism, or traumatic brain injury. Fortunately, the ADA covers most cases of mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety) as well.

3. What is a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations may be described as adjustments to the environment or the way tasks are normally completed.  Essentially, these adjustments allow people with disabilities to enjoy equal opportunity and greater inclusion in society. Here are a few examples:

  • Moving someone who is easily distracted from a cubicle to a regular office.
  • Lengthening lunch breaks to accommodate health care appointments.
  • Providing screen readers for students with visual impairments.
  • Installing curb ramps to allow those with physical disabilities to get into buildings or cross streets.

4. How do you ask for a reasonable accommodation?

Sometimes, asking for a reasonable accommodation may be stressful. In addition, it may be difficult to get a clear picture of the types of accommodations someone needs. At ALSO, our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are excellent at helping the people they support in determining the specifics of requesting reasonable accommodation.

Sometimes, when asking for a reasonable accommodation related to employment, an employer might request details about the medical condition or require a medical exam. It’s important to note that the individual doesn’t need to get this specific. They only need to request the type of accommodation they would need and how it would help them complete the essential functions of the job.

READ MORE: 5 Tips for Reasonable Accommodation Requests.

5. Is it difficult for employers to comply with reasonable accommodation requests?

There are many misconceptions regarding how complicated it really is for employers to comply with reasonable accommodation requests. According to the Jobs Accommodation Network, repeated annual employer surveys reveal that most accommodations are easy to implement and cost absolutely nothing to make! If there is a cost, it’s typically around $500. Clearly, there are several advantages to responding to reasonable accommodation requests in a positive way:

  • Retaining valuable employees.
  • Improved company diversity.
  • Improved overall productivity and morale.

LEARN MORE: Employers and the ADA: Myths and Facts.

6. What are the best steps an employer can take if a reasonable accommodation request is made?

Most notably, employers are required to engage in an interactive processto find a solution that fits both the employer and the employee. Please note that an employer isn’t engaging in a true interactive process if they refuse to enter into discussion or claim that no accommodation is possible without even learning the details of the request.

This doesn’t mean that reasonable workplace accommodation is always possible, nor required. This is because the legal definition of reasonable accommodation includes that it doesn’t cause undue hardship for the employer. A crucial factor in the whole process is that meaningful and collaborative discussion between the employer and the employee must occur. Any final decisions simply cannot be made unilaterally.

7. Does every employer have to comply with laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination?

Not necessarily. In Oregon, employers with fewer than six employees don’t have to comply with state and federal laws. In addition, it’s always possible that a request for reasonable accommodation may cause undue hardship. Therefore, even larger businesses may not be required to make accommodations.

However, as strong advocates for full community inclusion for all individuals with disabilities, we feel that the ultimate advantage of supporting a diverse workforce easily outweighs the challenges.

8. How do I get involved in supporting disability rights?

One of the most important actions we can take as advocates and self-advocates for disability rights is to vote in all local, state, and federal elections. As Americans, it’s both a privilege and a responsibility to exercise our rights to vote.

Thankfully, any Oregon voter can get assistance to:

  • Register to vote
  • Fill out a ballot
  • Return a ballot

Are you interested in providing voter assistance?  Check out this voter assistance guide so that you can help others to make their voice heard.

Oregon Disability Resources and Advocacy Organizations

There are numerous state, local and national resources available that help to create a better life for people with disabilities. These organizations provide advocacy, legal advice, and education on disability law. We encourage you to explore what the following organizations can offer:

  • Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) – In 1975, the US Congress granted DRO special authority to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Contact Information: 503-243-2081 or 1-800-452-1694 or fill out an intake request form.
  • Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon – Local information and resources for people with disabilities and senior citizens. Contact Information: 1-855-673-2372 or connect to your county.
  • Legal Aid Services of Oregon – Helping people with disabilities gain access to health care providers and medical assistance. Contact Information: Offices throughout Oregon.

ALSO: Leading by Example for Disability Rights

A group of ALSO heart workers with intellectually disabled clients.

Advocates for Life Skills and Opportunity (ALSO) is a non-profit provider of services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’ve proven repeatedly to communities across Oregon that persons with disabilities can indeed be excellent employees, caring neighbors, and contributing members of society. Our high-quality disability support services include:

  1. Supported Employment
  2. Residential & Housing Services
  3. Supported Living
  4. Children’s Services

We invite you to discover more about ALSO and our amazing 25-year journey. The road to full inclusion and equal opportunity for friends, family, and neighbors with disabilities continues… full speed ahead! Contact us today to learn more about what we do and how you can support disability rights through advocacy.

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