Mediation & People With Disabilities

For those who miss the monthly NYC-DR Roundtable Breakfast meetings sponsored by ACRGNY and John Jay College due to schedules (yes, we are all very busy conflict resolvers) or due to locations (I guess everyone doesn't live in New York City!), I plan to write a recap of each gathering I attend.

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Note 1: this is not an official recap nor is it intended to be one but rather it is just a posting of my notes and recollection from the day.

Note #2: For this month I credit Maria Volpe for contributing to this recap as well as editing it...Thanks!I hope you enjoy and feedback is always welcome!

For March's description from the invitation, see below in italics.

Judy Cohen, Coordinator of the ADA Mediation Guidelines Work Group (1998-2000), will present an overview of mediating with people with disabilities. This session is appropriate for mediators with a range of experience in ADA mediation, including those without any experience. However, Q&A and discussion is geared for experienced mediators. The basis of the discussion will be the ADA Mediation Guidelines.

*Judy explained she is speaking on this topic because of a lack of understanding of how to interact with people with disabilities. (Something I agree with- communication creates understanding!)

*Started off by giving us 4 different handouts including the ADA Mediation Guidelines, one of her articles from mediate.com, a list of disability-related resources for mediators, and the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators [Standard VI] from the American Bar Association. The latter was particularly good in that it compared the old language to the new language.

*She mentioned how learning how to work with individuals with a disability provides a framework/background. However, each individual is unique and thus there is not always one solution to each issue (much like the need for varied mediation tools).

*An example of adjusting to the needs of specific people: to help a person who is blind feel comfortable during a mediation, walk him/her around the room (getting familiar with his/her surroundings) and have everyone in the room introduce themselves (getting familiar with the voices/people present).

*She recalled how a blind person at the conclusion of mediation thanked everyone for not making a big deal of her service dog being present. The person remarked how they appreciated the fact that it was not another issue to deal with during the mediation.

*She mentioned how the ADA Mediation Guidelines are guidelines and not rules or standards. The current guidelines received over 200+ comments from all over the country.

*Disability access should be available to not just the party but also the process, e.g. allowing breaks for a person to get something to eat/drink if they have diabetes.

*The ADA guidelines handout has four sections: Program and Case Administration, Mediation Process, Mediator Training, and Mediation Ethics.

*The person handling the intake for cases should have the knowledge of how and what to say/not say.

She stressed today’s talk would not be about the laws involving persons with disabilities (however that did not stop a few law related questions!).
***A mediator can NOT charge more for added services such as sign language interpreters!

*If procedures are not in place, a person with a disability (PWD) could feel unwelcome.

*Question from the audience: “How do you handle an aggressive PWD?” She responded by saying there really is not much of a difference in response to an aggressive PWD and a non PWD aggressive person. She would use the same tools.

*Question from the audience: “What if a party is not acknowledging his/her own disability?” Her reply was as a mediator, if you see it, you could make adjustments such as using more visual aids. She stressed how like in any mediation, an effective mediator must be able to adjust to the needs of the parties.

*She stressed how she thinks visual aids help her immensely, especially in regards to mediations involving PWD.

*Mediation recruitment and training: the brief comment on this was she believed there should be broader and wider representation.

*Question from the audience: “What if one party calls the other ‘crazy’?” She would handle it like any other name calling during mediation.

*If there are resource people present in the mediation (e.g. medical expert), they should sit off to the side, not next to the mediator. They are there to help and ‘could be key to a resolution’.

*In PWD mediation cases, a family support person could help or hinder the process. She has experienced both situations so be aware of that.

*Audience comment: someone mentioned “semantic contagion” and the labeling condition makes a diagnosis appear more often. Judy agreed this is an important topic… for another day!

*Judy often brought up ‘reality testing’ as an effective tool during PWD mediations.

*In response to an audience member’s comment: Judy believes when mediating a case involving a PWD and a union issue, that accommodation trumps the collective bargaining agreement. Again, reality testing with the employer has worked well for her.

*Rights based mediation is a “big issue” and not just with the ADA.

*Judy mentioned how she put together a disability etiquette booklet and it is available for free. Just Google “united spinal”. An audience member mentioned how great the booklet is and how a pdf file of the booklet is available to be downloaded at that site.


From The Announcement
Judy Cohen, Coordinator of the ADA Mediation Guidelines Work Group (1998-2000), will present an overview of mediating with people with disabilities. This session is appropriate for mediators with a range of experience in ADA mediation, including those without any experience. However, Q&A and discussion is geared for experienced mediators. The basis of the discussion will be the ADA Mediation Guidelines.

Participants: please read the ADA Mediation Guidelines prior to the session which are available at http://www.cojcr.org/ada.html Please email requests to cover particular topics or questions for the session to Judy privately at judycohen@mediate.com.

Judy is a workplace consultant who provides a range of conflict management processes, including environmental assessments; coaching for management teams, supervisors and employees; group facilitation; conflict management and related training; and mediation of disputes involving EEO claims, discipline and discharge, interpersonal issues, and grievance mediation. She has specialized expertise in mediating disability–related disputes and in facilitating reasonable accommodation negotiations.

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