- Pat Schroeder
Updated April 2013
Disabilities mediation, in general terms, refers to any mediation of any conflict arising over the circumstances of a disabled person. In the U.S., however, the term usually refers to mediation under a specific statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Users of this procedure are likely, by definition, to be either disabled persons and/or their representatives, or employer representatives. More rarely, users may also include those with responsibility for determining compliance with other rules concerning disabled persons, such as those governing accessibility of buildings.
It is common for a disabilities issue in employment to involve the future handling of a continuing relationship, such as methods of accommodating to the disability. This goes beyond monetary claims. Many people believe that such cases are far better handled in mediation than in court, because of the flexibility of this process. Beyond the general description of mediation included separately in this section of CRInfo (see mediation), disabilities mediation inherently refers particularly to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law and the extremely complicated rulings issued under it in turn exist side-by-side with a number of overlapping state and federal laws governing rights of disabled persons and their employers. While both attorneys and non-attorneys mediate these cases, the result of this complexity has been the development of a specialized group of mediators who deal frequently with these issues and thus acquire familiarity with these intricate and exception-filled statutes.
A worker in a small factory producing machine parts becomes disabled as a result of an off-the-job auto accident, losing the use of both legs. The company claims that the employee can no longer perform in the industrial environment, and the employee files a claim under the ADA. The parties subsequently agree to mediate the dispute if possible. The mediator's questions about the company's methods of production lead to the discovery that among the 25 production jobs in the plant, two are normally performed by someone working in a seated position, and handling only small parts. It turns out that one of these two jobs could be relocated easily to an open area that is fully accessible to a wheelchair. The settlement involves changes to production operations that have the effect of moving three employees to different jobs, purchasing a new worktable for the use of the disabled person, and other changes at a level of detail a court would have been unlikely to delve into. But the result is that the employee is able to return to work and perform useful work for the employer.
Disabilities mediation is a specialized function, but the concept can become important to any person who is disabled and seeks to work in a normal workplace, as well as to supervisors, managers, and attorneys of any business that is either currently employing or asked to employ a disabled person.