this article talks about the situation in the US, but it is no
different from the 1 we face here in India. the application form at
JNU also demanded that we go through the whole process of acquiring a
new disability certificate in a format prescribed by the MHRD i think,
which required the ophthalmologist to fill out details about whether i
can wiggle my fingers, bend-over, and lift weights: abilities that
make a true Professor/ academician!
how academic jobs screen out disabled people.
Nearly every academic job listing claims not to discriminate based on
disability. A lot of them still do.
By David M. Perry
Every faculty job advertisement at Holy Cross College at Notre Dame,
Indiana, comes with this statement:
block quote end
Repetitive movement of hands and fingers — typing and/or writing;
occasional standing, walking, stooping, kneeling or crouching;
reaching with hands and
arms; talking and hearing.
block quote end
Ability to lift and carry up to 20 lbs.
block quote end
NOTE: The above statements are intended to describe the general nature
and level of work being performed by the person assigned to this job.
They are not
intended to be an exhaustive list of all responsibilities, duties,
skills, and physical demands required of personnel so classified….
Holy Cross College
is an equal opportunity employer. All employment decisions are based
on qualifications and are made without regard to race, color, national
sex, disability, or any other legally protected status.
block quote end
Holy Cross College seems like a nice, co-educational Catholic school
in one of the great college towns in America. There’s no reason to
think the school’s
administrators are particularly ableist or interested in
discriminating against people with disabilities. But Holy Cross—like
dozens of other institutions
of higher education across the country — keeps appending these clauses
to job ads. Imagine if you were deaf or in a wheelchair and wanted to
read that “walking, talking and hearing” were required. Would you even
finish the application?
These job ads send a different message: “Be normal or you can’t have
block quote end
Despite the note appended to the end, echoing language in accordance
with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, this statement is
The practice, however, is common. If you go to HigherEdJobs.com and
,” you’ll find 654 entries right now that require various degrees of
physical ability, often accompanied by other statements mandating
“normal” modes of
communication. Some of these positions are in jobs like nursing, where
required lifting might be entirely reasonable, albeit still subject to
reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Others, like all the jobs at Hood College, Maryland,
routinely repeat a boilerplate set of physical demands
that do not seem remotely relevant to the job—though Hood’s at least
uses the hedge-word “may” and explicitly talks about accommodations.
At least when taken to the extreme, as Holy Cross seems to do, the
practice is problematic. I’ve been writing about and tracking such
clauses in higher
education job ads for a year, and expert after expert — including
legal counsel at the EEOC — agrees. Human resource directors cannot
just pile up physical
demands that are not linked to the core requirements of the job.
Roofers need to climb ladders. Truckers need to drive. Professors need
to teach, an act
that generally requires neither walking, stooping, kneeling, or
carrying—or, for that matter, oral speaking or aural listening.
Don’t Look to the Movies to Learn About Disability The next time you
meet a disabled person, throw the films you’ve watched about them out
the window and
The key word here is requires, which carries with it a legal meaning
not related to most of these positions, and certainly not most faculty
jobs. To be
clear, Holy Cross is not the problem here, but merely an instance of
requirement creep filling up the legalese of hiring practices. I
initially came across
one of these job ads at a branch public campus in Massachusetts, and
found them permeating both Texas and Arkansas systems. My resulting
Disabled People Need Not Apply
,” did result in some changes in cases where I successfully engaged
individual human resources managers at specific universities,
but structural transformation has been harder to achieve. Moreover,
the problem is not confined to colleges and universities. You can find
similar requirements — especially
the “must carry 20/25 pounds” clause — in job listings across
industries. Social-media managers for non-profits or technical
companies shouldn’t be “required”
to carry heavy weight, yet, for some reason, many of them still are.
What’s going on? I’ve never quite been able to locate the reasoning
behind this kind of clause. In general, the writers of job
descriptions are encouraged
to consider what would be necessary to complete the essential
functions. “Walking,” though, is so clearly not an essential function
for a professor, that
it’s confusing how this has happened.
the Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies
and a professor of anthropology at the University of
to me that at least some of these clauses are intended to prevent
workplace disability lawsuits: If your boss tells you to carry a heavy
box of papers
and you throw out your back, you can sue, but if your job description
included that 25 pounds, then your employer might be safe.
There’s no evidence anyone is intending to use these clauses to
discriminate against people with disabilities. Indeed, disabled
academics do get these
jobs, if they make it through the application process. Yet such
clauses pre-screen out disabled candidates. The typically abled
candidate might never even
read the bottom of the job description (I never did when I was
applying for such jobs), but if you’re a wheelchair user, you’ve
become accustomed to checking
for them. One academic who uses a wheelchair, who prefers not to be
named because he’s currently on the job market, told me:
Someone has taken a lot of time to describe the physical, mental, and
perceptual abilities of a “normal” person. I am disappointed that such
language made it into these job ads. The academic job market is so
trying and exhausting, and for someone with a disability, this sort of
my worst fears.
block quote end
What’s more, legal experts agree that one cannot simply tack on
non-essential “requirements” to every job description. I spoke with
Chris Kuczynski from
the legal counsel office at the EEOC. He agreed that adding physical
requirements to non-physical jobs would “deter people from applying
for these positions”
in contravention of EEOC rules. He also told me that, while the EEOC
could investigate such clauses themselves, the best way forward was
for a disabled
would-be job candidate to
go to the EEOC website and file a charge
in response to a job with a clause that excludes them by
unnecessarily listing a specific physical attribute as essential.
The Future of Disability Rights in the White House An interview with
Maria Town, outgoing disability liaison at the Office of Public
Back to Holy Cross — again, just an example of the bigger problem, not
a particularly bad actor here. My guess is that Holy Cross would
a disabled faculty member—if one applied. Surely the people there are
of good will and likely even devoted to the inclusive tradition of
as suggested by their mission.
But the job ads send a different message, telling the candidate that,
if you want to be their next English professor, you have to be able to
and hear. It’s a clause that says, “be normal or you can’t have this
Over the past few days, I called both the Holy Cross human resources
department and its public relations department, spoke to a number of
submitted questions to them in writing at their request. They have not
In the meantime, if you are disabled and wish to apply for one of
these jobs, you can contact the
EEOC website and file a charge.
David M. Perry:
Just your average disability rights journalist, medieval history
professor, TV/movie critic, and Irish rock musician. I also do dishes.
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