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Stephen Hawking illustrates the importance of accommodating people with disabilities

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. While the ADA did not fully live up to what lawmakers intended, necessitating the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADA-AA), it has always contained important provisions that require businesses and governments to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled people. These accommodations enable people with disabilities to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in government programs and services.

Why is it important that we accommodate people with disabilities? It is important because people with disabilities have a lot to offer to society but sometimes cannot do so unless they have the right tools. I recently saw a documentary about the famous physicist Stephen Hawking which seemed to illustrate this important concept.

Dr. Hawking has done groundbreaking work studying the origins of the universe and other issues of cosmology and physics. He may be best known as the author of the best-selling book A Brief History of Time. A Brief History of Time discusses the origins of the universe and various other issues in cosmology and theoretical physics in ways that lay people can understand. Millions of people have read A Brief History of Time and, as a result, have gained a deeper understanding of the universe.

Dr. Hawking has a disability known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In the 1960s, ALS began to take away Dr. Hawking’s ability to walk and control his body.  Eventually, ALS took away his ability to speak. In the 1980s, Dr. Hawking was working on A Brief History of Time but he may not have finished it without the aid of a computer that helped him to communicate. This computer is a classic example of a reasonable accommodation. Hawking’s story illustrates how accommodating people with disabilities not only benefits the person with the disability but also society as a whole because we all reap the benefits of what people with disabilities have to offer when we give them a chance.

While this may all sound like common sense, many employers do not provide disabled employees with the accommodations that they need to work. The Maine Employee Rights Group is committed to helping these disabled workers. If you have a disability that your employer is not willing to accommodate, contact the Maine Employee Rights Group to learn more about your rights.