Celebrating the ADA in today’s Chicago Tribune

Last month I wrote a post linking to an article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin about Jocelyn Snower, a woman who was fired after her boss realized she was blind. In the post, I wondered how this could have happened. In the comments, I saw that my blog readers wondered, too. And so, I found Jocelyn’s phone number and gave her a call.

Jocelyn Snower

The lilt of Jocelyn’s voice tells you she smiles a lot. The words she says tells you she thinks a lot. It was easy to understand why the owner of Balance Staffing would want to hire her, and difficult to understand why he’d let her go.

Jocelyn started losing her sight when she was 18. “When it happened, it just changed everything,” she said over the phone. “You lose some of your independence, and you lose your idea of who you are. One day you’re perfect, and then the next day you have – what seemed to me, anyway – a big imperfection.” Jocelyn acknowledged that her visual impairment is a part of who she is now. “But it only impacts my life when I let it, it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I want to do.”

Jocelyn still has enough usable vision to ride a bike, and she doesn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. Her visual impairment was not mentioned during the interview. After hiring her, the business owner communicated with Jocelyn by phone and had no complaints about her work.

But then she was asked to fax him some HR paperwork. Her position as a job recruiter did not require her to drive, but the form asked for a copy of her driver’s license. She used her official State of Illinois ID instead, and the business owner started asking around. When a co-worker confirmed Jocelyn couldn’t see well enough to drive, the business owner fired her.

What. A. Story. The minute I hung up the phone I got right to work writing an op-ed piece about all this to submit to the Chicago Tribune. My hope was that they’d like it enough to run it in tomorrow’s paper: July 26 is the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Op-Ed editor at the Tribune wrote me right back. They’d publish it, alright, but they’d do me one better. A law that sadly still needs to be on the books is in today’s paper. The Sunday Edition. Wayyyyy more people read the Sunday paper than the other ones, which means wayyyyy more people are going to hear about Jocelyn Snower’s story, and that makes me wayyyyy happy today. . I’ll end with a bit from the piece, but I do hope you’ll link to today’s Sunday Chicago Tribune to read it in its entirety:

Snower decided she might be better off working for herself. She runs her own successful job recruiting business now, specializing in finding nannies.

Still, she wanted the business owner to know he’d done the wrong thing when he let her go. So she took her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC alleged that the owner revoked Snower’s job offer the minute he found out she was blind, even though she had already been working successfully for him.

Last month a federal judge here in Chicago entered a consent decree requiring Balance Staffing to pay Snower $100,000. The judge’s decision was good news, Snower said. “But really, I felt I’d already won when the EEOC decided to take on my case,” she said. “It meant they believed me. They knew I could work. They knew I’d done a good job.”

Amen. Happy anniversary, ADA!

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45 Responses to “Celebrating the ADA in today’s Chicago Tribune”


  1. 1 nancyb July 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Way to go, Beth, with the great article! Unreal that someone can have such cro-magnon attitudes and still run a business. Best wishes to Jocelyn.

  2. 2 Bob July 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I’m one of your blog readers who had questions after reading that other post about this woman. Thanks for contacting her and writing this and answering my questions.

  3. 3 Jocelyn Snower July 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Beth,

    What can I say? I am blown away by your article in the Trib and this blog post. Thank you so much for bringing my story to life, and taking the time to speak to me. You are truly amazing. I hope we can meet sometime soon.

    YOUR fan,

    Jocelyn

    • 4 bethfinke July 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      Jocelyn, I am just over the moon that the Tribune chose to run this on a Sunday, so many people will read about your experience. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you are a very courageous woman to have brought that case to court, I am so glad I was able to find you and talk with you and yes, I do hope we will meet face-to-someday. In fact, I am very confident that will happen.
      KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

  4. 5 Margo Gremmler July 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Such great news for all involved. Congratulations, Beth. This may be a tough high-point to beat!

  5. 6 Lynn July 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    READ it and LOVED it. Story is startling in some ways, and you told it so well. Beautifully written and expressed. Wow.

  6. 7 Cheryl July 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Beth, after what happened to you and your job that was taken away years ago, I’ll bet you kinda feel like “gotcha”. Great job! Proud of you.

    • 8 bethfinke July 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm

      Aw, shucks. Thanks, Cheryl! Gotta admit, I *do* feel a little like “gotcha”
      Well, actually, when it comes to the boss who terminated my contract back in 1986, I might use wording a little more harsh than “gotcha.” But I do like to keep this blog G-rated!
      I am happy times are changing so much for the better – I can only guess, but I think today if a college hired a student advisor who was blind, most would just shrug their shoulders and say, well, yeah, why not?! Too bad the boss I was working for 24 years ago didn’t have the foresight, she could have been applauded — and most likely, rewarded — as a pioneer.
      Her loss.

  7. 9 Andrea July 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Congratulations, Beth, on your Tribune article! You’re a fantastic writer!

    • 10 bethfinke July 25, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      Thanks, Andrea — that’s high praise, coming from a fine writer like you. Looking forward to being with you in class this Wednesday –

  8. 11 becky July 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Beautifully written, Beth, and excellent that it was in today’s paper. Good for you Jocelyn to be so proactive about it all. I will share this on my blog as well.

  9. 13 Siobhan Senier July 26, 2010 at 6:07 am

    This is exactly why we need civil-rights legislation like the ADA, and why it needs to be ENFORCED. Great piece to add to your already impressive dossier, Beth. What’s your next book. . .?

  10. 15 Francine July 26, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Fantastic article. Just one question, though. I’ve read so many articles and posts in which you mention your own experience of being fired. Why, exactly, are you always so kind as to not mention the name of the employer?

    • 16 bethfinke July 26, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Hmm. afraid my Answer would be too complicated for a short blog comment. Part of the reason I don’t disclose, I guess, is to get people to read my memoir, “Long Time, No See” — there are enough clues in there for anyone who really wants to figure out who the evil being was.

  11. 17 Gretchen July 26, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Beautifully said Beth! And yes, no doubt we still need this law.

    Gretchen

  12. 18 Sandra July 26, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I loved the article. As I was reading, well listening to it, I could tell the business owner has a terrible misconception about the capabilities of people who are blind. I don’t remember the exact words, but somewhere in the article you mention one of the owner’s reasons to fire Jocelyn was that she couldn’t see the telephone numbers or something like that. Now that’s just rediculous!

    Jocelyn, I applaud you for stepping up and filing the complaint to the EEOC. All victims of discrimination in their workplace should be proactive and fight for their rights like you did!

    Again, great article Beth!

    • 19 Beth July 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      Oh, Sandra, you are so right, Jocelyn definitely deserves our praise.
      And I want my blog readers to know that, like Jocelyn, Sandra is *also* a fighter! You may have read about her here before, she started a blog of her own when she started attending University of Illinois last Fall. After going on hiatus for a while she is back. Check out “Sandra the Future Journalist” at:
      http://sandramurillo.wordpress.com/

      And stay tuned here, I plan on featuring Sandra in a “Safe & Sound” blog post in the very near future.

  13. 21 Mary Jo July 26, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Thanks Beth for your article. I’m thrilled you got the word out there the way you did!

  14. 22 Ken July 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Beth, so great that you picked up this story. My wife and I know Jocelyn, and you are absolutely right that she is courageous. She often rides her bike through any weather Chicago can throw at her in order to get her kids to activities, she enjoys running and runs like Forest Gump and I have never heard her utter a single complaint about the challenges of being legally blind. You are also right about her smile – it shines through. The EEOC did a great thing. And so did you.

    • 23 Beth July 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks for the sweet note, Ken, and also for confirming that I had it right about Jocelyn’s smile. Not sure if many realize it, but you really can hear a smile. Just one more thing that box of rocks who fired Jocelyn would not understand, I guess. His loss.

  15. 24 Cheri July 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Amazing that things like that are still happening.
    Good for you, Beth, for taking the time to write about it.

  16. 25 Maria July 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I am a teacher and remember when IDEA came to pass and how it changed things for kids in special education. I’m glad to hear the ADA helped
    out in the “real” world as well. Until I read your recent blog and article I kind of took it for granted all these years. You are an outstanding writer
    which goes to show, sight really doesn’t have much to do with certain abilities, talents and skills. (I particularly liked when you stated that you could
    counsel students about traveling abroad with “your eyes closed.” That pretty much said it all!)

  17. 26 Sheila Donovan July 26, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Beth, congrats on your Trib article. It’s so hard to believe that the employer was so stupid…….well I guess it’s not so hard to believe after all. The majority of people where I used to work were dumped because of ageism, me included. We had to sign that we would not sue. They bribed us with severance pay. Of course, we all needed the money, so we sold our souls. They have been reported, but can’t be sued.

  18. 27 Mary McHugh July 27, 2010 at 8:07 am

    I wish my daughter Kyle were alive to hear your Trib article, Beth. She would have loved it. She worked for an enlightened Massachusetts senator and tried always to make the point that being blind doesn’t rob you of your intelligence or ability to hold down a responsible job.

    I’m sure your op ed piece will influence some employers to reconsider their old-fashioned ideas about hiring people with disabilties.

  19. 28 bethfinke July 27, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Oh, Mary, I hope you are right, and in some small way this op-ed piece does influence employers to reconsider their old-fashioned ideas, would be great if we could eliminate the whole lawsuit part of this, such a misuse of time and energy. But sometimes, like in Jocelyn’s case, the right recourse and sadly still necessary .

  20. 29 Lori Keller July 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I was a rehabilitation counseling graduate student around the time the ADA was passed. It was difficult at the time for me to understand why it was an important piece of legislation. I thought ‘how can it be that great if George Bush signed it? There must be more to this.’ I also took for granted that people don’t get fired just for having a disability. Of course, I was wrong. My experience working with people with mental illness helped me to realize how much stigma is still out there and that the ADA has changed so many people’s lives in big ways.

  21. 30 Anne O. July 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Beth,

    Thanks for this blog and the Tribune Op Ed piece.

    Twenty years ago, when ADA was passed, I was working for a non-profit named Artreach Milwaukee and we were very involved with increasing access to the arts in many ways. For example, we worked with area theater and music groups to provide sign language interpreters and audio describers. As the ADA anniversary approached, that time felt like such a long time ago. It also feels like some of the energy and services generated by the ADA have dissipated. Sadly, Artreach dissolved over ten years ago, though the programs continue to be offered at a smaller level by other non-profits.

    I hope the twentieth anniversary of the ADA reminds people of the need for this legislation and renews commitment to equality for persons with disabilities.

    • 31 bethfinke July 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Anne O,
      It never occurred to me that we are showing our age if we can remember life before the ADA! I told a young (24 years old,I guess) friend of mine that I’d written something up about the 20th anniversary, Alex is a skateboarder and was surprised the ADA was that new, only 20 years old. He’s had a lifetime of curb cuts and Braille on elevators and wider stalls for people who use wheelchairs. I considered it a very good sign, the way he shrugged it all off. To him, all these accommodations are .normal. Yay, ADA!

  22. 32 Janet July 27, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    loved it.  read it in the actual paper.  i’m a little slow on the computer!
    cut it out for Grandma minke, as i’m sure her friends aren’t as high tech, either…!

  23. 33 Sandra July 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    You know Beth, being a young person I have always thought of ADA accomodations as just “normal” things in our country. Obviously I don’t remember the days before the ADA, but when I took the Culture of Disabilities course this past semester it made me realize how important the ADA is to those of us with disabilities. Now if only we could change the public’s negative misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities! I know we’ll never “wipe out” those thoughts/feelings, but if we go out and show people our capabilities I’m sure they will continue to be minimized!

    • 34 bethfinke July 28, 2010 at 9:07 am

      Sandra, you are so right, and of all the people I know, you are a *perfect* candidate to go out there and show others all of your capabilities. I’m stll cooking up a blog post about you, I may publish it right before you return to U of I again. Which, I’m thinking, is not that far off!
      And like Anne O. said so eloquently above, “I hope the twentieth anniversary of the ADA reminds people of the need for this legislation and renews commitment to equality for persons with disabilities.” I also hope that in some small way, getting news out about Jocelyn’s story reminds people of the need for this legislation and renews commitment to equality for persons with disabilities.

  24. 35 taraisarockstar July 27, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Beth,

    I think about you all the time…so to pick up the Tribune and find your article was very exciting! I passed it on to all my friends! On Momday, WGN had a news story commemorating the anniversary of the ADA as well…

    I’m so glad you are doing well. I posted a link to your blog site on my blog: http://taraisarockstar.wordpress.com

    You are such a major influence in my life!!! Congrats and hope to catch up with you soon.

    Tara Waysok (the hair model…)

  25. 36 Maureen Naset July 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Great article, Beth, about Jocelyn and the ADA. I have read both your books and truly enjoy your writing and blog articles. You are a true inspiration for many.

  26. 37 Jill July 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    As always, you rock, Bethie! Do I know that skateboarding Alex you were referring to…?

  27. 39 Chris G July 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Hey Beth, really enjoyed your article and, as always, your enthusiasm and pursuit of an interesting and enlightening story. Looks like many got to read the article!

  28. 40 Siobhan Senier July 29, 2010 at 11:49 am

    This whole conversation reminds me of hearing John Hockenberry talk about the ADA on “The Takeaway.” He points out simply that we’re way better off than we were, but doing nowhere near as well as countries (including some impoverished Middle Eastern ones, where he was a reporter) that don’t have resources for things like ramps and ATM audio, but where the citizens as a whole have more of a social contract, where they’re like, willing to actually help someone with a wheelchair up the stairs without whining about liability.

    Beth, have you read his book? See if it’s on tape: it’s called _Moving Violations_, it’s a memoir about his life in a wheelchair, and it is one of the smartest, funniest, and thought-provoking books ever.

  29. 41 Beth July 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Siobhan,
    “Moving Violations” is indeed available on audio from the National Library Service for the Blind and physically handicapped. I read it on your recommendation, I always do take your recommendations seriously. IN fact, just finished “Zeituon” by Dave Eggers after finding out both you and your sister Laura liked it. What goes around comes around, remember how Zietuon was so upset when he couldn’t evacuate his neighbor who used a wheelchair, the wheelchair couldn’t be lifted into the canoe? Zeituon went to get “official” help and…they never showed up.

  30. 42 Tim Magner August 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Beth-
    Congratulations.

    Although I’m not a big fan of the term “Disability” in ADA. Seems to me, we all have our “limitations.” And if we choose to look at them as “limitations” in the traditional sense of the word we suffer. But if we see them as challenges and choose to embrace the opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, then we all benefit.

    I love to follow your success, and the success of people like Jocelyn. If every kid got to spend time with you, the world would be a better place. Cheers, Tim.

  31. 43 Mary A. August 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    thanks so much for the lovely article in the trib about ADA.

    my community still pretends it does not exist. Until last year when my neighbor and I went to the board, the staff was actively taking out handicap ramps and replacing them with barrier curbs. the ramps they do install as part of a repaving job only meet specification about 50% of the time, and even in very flat areas they seem to go out of their way to screw it up.

  32. 44 Trina August 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I have the chills, Beth. So glad the Tribune gave you the opportunity to shine! Congratulations!

    In adoration,
    Trina


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