PIERRE, S.D. — Trainers operating with a federal grant came to Brookings and Pierre this week to educate public and private employers on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
One of the sessions led by the Rocky Mountain ADA Center addressed employer requirements with the state's Bureau of Human Resources, a move in line with Gov. Dennis Daugaard's push to employ more people with disabilities throughout the state.
"He wants to ensure that state government, as an employer, is a model employer," said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the governor's senior adviser.
Daugaard's administration has touted that employing people with disabilities can help businesses in the state fill workforce shortages. And for Daugaard, it's personal as well. His parents were both deaf.
"They both worked hard on our family farm, and when the farm went upside-down financially, they both took jobs as janitors at Augustana College to make ends meet," Daugaard wrote last July in his weekly column.
Trainers in Pierre worked with state staff on ADA requirements and implementation tips for people working in hospitality and restaurant industries and conducted a right-of-way training for public workers involved with pedestrian infrastructure.
Earlier in the week, Rachael Stafford, Rocky Mountain ADA Center project director, and her team held trainings for state and local governments in Brookings on accommodating people with disabilities in emergency management and in parks and recreation.
The ADA was signed into law in 1990, so it marks 25 years in existence next year. It prohibits discrimination against and requires equal opportunities for people with disabilities in several areas, including employment and public accommodations. Designated bathroom stalls and cut-out curbs at intersections are two of the more obvious results of the law.
Governments can become preoccupied with fear of expensive accommodations, but there are work-arounds, Stafford said. For example, rather than renovating a historic building, officials could move events or meetings to a more accommodating location.
Malsam-Rysdon agreed that while some of the ADA requires systemic changes, many accommodations can be made at the individual level.
Daugaard called together a task force last year on employing people with disabilities and the recommendations came out in a report in January. The Department of Human Services is also looking to hire a business liaison to encourage and support the hiring of people with disabilities in state industries.
"We're excited," Malsam-Rysdon said. "There's untapped potential when you look at folks with disabilities."
While skeptical of the state's progress toward ADA compliance, Ken Laughlin, the state adjutant for Disabled American Veterans in Sioux Falls, said educating people about the ADA is always a good thing.
Infrastructure that supports people with disabilities is still lacking in the state, including in Sioux Falls where some curb cut-outs are crumbling and there aren't always sidewalks, he said.
"It sounds good. But the problem I always see is they put it on paper, but it never goes much further," Laughlin said about the state's efforts. "Access to a lot of things is still very limited."
Stafford said aging baby boomers and the return of military veterans with physical and psychological ailments are bringing accessibility issues to the fore.
"The disability group is the only minority group we could all join one minute from now," she said.