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Executive Director of the Alliance of Disability Advocates
Rene C. has vision loss and a hearing loss in one ear. She also struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter.
Rene is Executive Director of the Alliance of Disability Advocates, a Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has been the Executive Director since the Center opened in April 2004.“I have an ideal situation here because I am the boss. In the past, I have experienced lots of discrimination because of my low vision,” Rene says. “However, technically, as an employment site, we don’t have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because we don’t have 15 employees. We have 5 full time employees, 3 part-time and 2 part-time contract employees. But it would not make sense if we did not make reasonable accommodations for our employees.”
The reasonable accommodations Rene uses include a driver to take her to meetings or other places in the CIL’s five-county service area. She also has a screen reader as well as a scanner that scans print materials into an optical character recognition program where they are read back to her through a computer located on the right side of her desk. A closed circuit TV (CCTV) is located on the left. Rene uses the CCTV to magnify things like tables or graphs.
The CCTV is a camera on a stand that projects whatever is placed beneath it up on a monitor. Rene can adjust the magnification as large as needed—sometimes as large as having only 2 or 3 characters on the screen. Between the scanner and the CCTV, she can usually read anything she needs.
Because of her hearing loss, Rene also needs assistive listening devices. The CIL has purchased a PA system with microphones for use in their community room where they conduct trainings. However, she cannot attend meetings in restaurants because of the ambient noise, so other CIL staff attend in her place. And she can’t stand it when someone at a meeting says, “I don’t need a microphone because I have a loud voice!” (Some people just don’t get it.)
The other CIL employees also have disabilities, including spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, migraines, and respiratory complications. One person who has a Guide Dog uses a driver service, scanner and screen reader. Another employee uses a power wheelchair and only has the use of one hand. Although this employee was offered a one-handed keyboard, she declined. She has always used a standard keyboard and is “very fast and very accurate.”
Other reasonable accommodations that ensure peak performance are flex time and a generous leave policy. Flex time can be taken “as needed;” leave accrues as one personal day and one sick day for each month worked. This is essential because several employees have systemic disabilities like migraines or spinal cord injuries that can flare unexpectedly. Changes in the weather cause muscle spasms for an employee who has a spinal cord injury.Other employees have fluctuations of good days and bad days due to multiple sclerosis and respiratory complications.
Prior to becoming Executive Director, Rene worked for four years for the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health, a job she loved. She was also part of a volunteer group seeking funding to start a CIL in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. The proposal was funded in October 2003 but by December the Board had not hired an Executive Director or found an office location. The Board members recruited Rene, begging her to apply and reminding her that she was the person who had written the grant proposal. Rene gave serious thought to the tradeoffs but finally agreed to take the position and “get this CIL up and running.”
Her immediate task was to find an office that met all of the accessibility needs: it had to be fully accessible including accessible rest rooms, a ramp entrance and a location close to bus lines. Even deciding on paint color, baseboards, and carpeting proved a challenge. Rene was presented with a chart that had 28 paint chips on it—all of them white! Fortunately, one of the board members was an interior design professional who declared certain chips too yellow, too pink, or too gray. Rene left the color choices to her.
All of Rene’s personal reasonable accommodations were even more essential when the CIL was just starting up and had very few staff. As Executive Director, Rene was responsible for creating the payroll and for filling out all the federal monitoring forms—by hand—which meant that the scanner and the CCTV got a good work out. Now that the CIL can afford a half-time bookkeeper, Rene is delighted to pass that essential function to her.