It's a problem many thought had become history more than 20 years ago when President George H. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. The ADA says if a worker with a disability is qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, even if they require reasonable accommodation, they are protected from job discrimination.
Discrimination against the disabled is usually hidden. It may happen behind closed office doors, or even in the mind of the employer who doesn't want to follow the law. But two decades after the passage of the ADA, we wondered how regular people would respond if they could see the law flouted right in front of them. So with the owner's permission, we outfitted SmartWorld Coffee in Morristown, N.J. with hidden cameras and waited for the morning rush.
As the WWYD scenario got underway, NTID students Hannah Worek and Maya Ariel played our job applicants. Another WWYD actor played the discriminating manager of a coffee shop in need of a kitchen worker. When the women walked into the shop and asked for an application, the manager blatantly announced he wasn't hiring any deaf people.
"I'm not going to hire a deaf person. I'm just letting you know. So we'll save you some time. … I mean you're deaf, it's going to be really hard for you to work here," he said.
Many customers looking on told us afterwards they were shocked. Some said they planned to raise the issue later with the store owner. As the scene repeated again and again throughout the day, some customers stared, rolled their eyes, or grimaced, but few openly objected to the outright discrimination they witnessed.
One striking exception was customer Gerald Tourgee. When he saw what was happening, he turned to the manager and said, "Excuse me, are you aware of the Equal Employment Opportunity laws? You just made a blanket statement about not hiring a deaf person. You've made it very clear you're not hiring a deaf person. ... If she takes the job and she's not able to fulfill the duties, that's a different situation. But not to hire her because she's deaf, that's absolutely discriminatory!"
After a long day of too many customers looking the other way, the outburst was welcomed by our actors. But other responses were less kind-hearted and some might shock you. Watch Friday night to see the surprising reactions of some people who are supposed to be employment experts: human resource workers and job recruiters.
For More Information
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Click here to find more details about the Americans with Disabilities Act from the EEOC.