The Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service hosts Pizza & Politics every Wednesday at noon to discuss a current political topic. Leavitt Center student employees research the topic and moderate the conversation. These discussions expose students to a variety of important issues and encourage them to share their own perspectives while learning all sides of an issue. Free pizza is provided for all who attend.
The Pizza & Politics discussion on November 7 discussed disability awareness in the workplace and school. The discussion was in conjunction with the SUU Disability Support Center’s Disability Week. Moderators were Elliott Ramirez and Angelica Valencia, two Fellows from the Leavitt Center. Elliott is a freshman political science and communication major with minors in criminal justice and legal studies from Pleasant Grove, Utah. Angelica is a freshman pre-law major with a minor in foreign relations from Cedar City, Utah.
In 2016, the American Community Survey estimated the overall rate of people with disabilities in the U.S. population was 12.8 percent. Of that 12.8 percent, only 35.9 percent of people were employed compared to a 76.6 percent employment rate of those without disabilities.
A big conversation with employing people with disabilities is the subminimum wage. This law states that a worker’s pay rate may be less than the minimum wage only if the worker’s disability reduces his or her ability to do the job. Employers must tell each worker, in person and in writing, that they will earn less than the minimum wage. A worker’s pay must be based on the amount other employers pay their employees and the worker’s ability to do the job.
Many students did not agree with the subminimum wage. They felt if work was being done, people should be paid appropriately. The argument for subminimum wage was that it allows employers to employ people with disabilities. Some employers might not hire if they have to pay at least the minimum wage.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or a relationship/association with an individual with a disability. A person with a disability is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Title III of the ADA prohibits the discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations. It requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation, as well as commercial facilities, to comply with ADA standards. It does, however, exclude private and religious organizations.
The question posed to the audience asked if religious/private organizations should be required to comply with ADA standards. A lot of students did not think the government should regulate the private sector. They thought if companies did not comply with ADA standards, consumers would stop using their services. On the flip side, other students said the average consumer does not realize what is or is not up to ADA standards. The officials who oversee the standards would be able to point out the changes needed.
Moving to a more localized discussion, the SUU Disability Support Center recognizes and provides accommodations for the following disabilities: cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, ADD/ADHD, and dyslexia, among others. Accommodations from the center include alternative text, assistive technology, sign language service, and in-class peer note-takers.
The discussion asked if there were gaps in the support SUU offers students with disabilities. Some students said the accommodations from the Disability Support Center were good, but the accessibility on campus was lacking. The campus could change doorways and elevators to be more accessible by all students. Cracks in the sidewalk and steep inclines might seem minor to the average student, but those with disabilities suddenly need to find a different way to get to class.
Service animals incited the most lively discussion of the afternoon. Businesses are allowed to ask if the animal is a service animal but cannot ask that animal to perform trained tricks, ask the owner for a special ID, or ask the person about their disabilities. A person with a disability cannot be removed from the premises unless the animal is out of control and the owner cannot get control back, or if the animal is a direct threat to people’s health and safety. Allergies and fear of the animal are not considered a threat to people’s health and safety.
Students were asked if service animals on campus or in housing affect their educational experience. A lot of students said no, often commenting on how cute the dogs are in their classes. However, some students pointed to their allergies and said it was a concern for them to have dogs and cats in the classroom. Carmen Alldredge, director of disability services at SUU, commented and said that all students would need to be accommodated if there were multiple problems. For example, if a student was allergic to a service dog, the Disability Support Center would work to accommodate for both the dog and its owner and the person with allergies.
The discussion was a great way for students to recognize challenges they do not typically face. A lot of students said they had never realized some of the struggles that come with having disabilities.