Despite the advances of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities are still discriminated against in many subtle ways. Disability rights are not merely a matter of providing ramps, sign language interpreters, or Braille signage in public buildings. It is also a matter of understanding the civil rights of those who may not be as obviously incapacitated and whose methods of adaptation sometimes seem different or even bizarre to those around them.
Neurological and mental differences are as important as physical impairment in compliance with state and federal disability laws. As stereotypes are gradually abandoned, we begin to realize that we live and work alongside autistic people who may appear at first glance to be perfectly normal. However, an everyday work or school environment can be extremely stressful to the autistic or otherwise neurologically impaired. Fluorescent lights, intrusive noise, physical proximity to others and even friendly socializing can impair the autistic’s ability to function. An autistic individual may strive to cope for the sake of appearing normal, causing even more stress.
Failure to make reasonable accommodations to persons with these invisible disabilities is disability discrimination under the law. Employers, educators, law enforcement officers and people in other public services need to be aware of this. They also need to understand the adaptive technologies used by these people to enable them to function in the everyday world. These may include text-to-speech programs, special colored lenses and filters, earplugs, and toy-like objects used for emotional grounding.
Disability and Housing Rights
Many disabled people are capable of living independently if the proper conditions are met. Others need only a facilitator to help with certain aspects of daily living and are otherwise independent, while others require full-time caregivers. It is illegal to refuse to rent to disabled persons, and illegal to refuse to allow them to modify their dwelling place to accommodate their needs. Landlords are also legally required to allow service animals on the property, even where pets are not allowed.
Disability and Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers should be given training in how to deal with autistic individuals and what to expect in terms of communication and physical interaction. Attempting to handle a developmentally disabled person as if he or she were normal frequently leads to misunderstanding and claims of “resisting arrest.” Autistic individuals have been beaten, tasered and shot by police who mistook them for drug users. This also happens with people with conditions like epilepsy, and those who are mentally ill but otherwise harmless, whose unusual behavior may have alarmed those around them.
You Have Rights
If you have experienced disability discrimination in Chicago, you can consult a disability rights attorney. You can explain what happened at your own rate, using whatever methods are comfortable for you. You will receive assistance in filing a complaint with the appropriate government office. In presenting a complaint, you will need to have documented proof that the person who discriminated against you knew of your disability and was asked to make reasonable changes to accommodate your situation. You may also be given a resource guide listing the many disability services in Chicago and the state of Illinois for future reference.