Jane Gagliardo hadn’t heard of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when she was fired from her job at a big corporation in 1996. All she wanted was to keep her job, but Jane had Multiple Sclerosis and was fired in spite of 10 years as a dedicated employee who pioneered new systems to sell and distribute pharmaceuticals for the company. In this interview, she regrets not knowing that she only had to ask for “reasonable accommodation” according to the ADA, a law passed in 1990 to protect the rights of people with disabilities like Jane.
Jane’s story is told in the recently released book, Call to Witness: One Woman’s Battle with Disability, Discrimination and a Pharmaceutical Powerhouse, written by Rev. Sherry Blackman. Sherry and Jane join with Dr. Nancy O’Reilly to discuss the importance of choices and how they affect our work and future health. One crucial choice is to educate yourself. For example, once Jane had become informed about her rights, she was able to make a choice to be vulnerable and stand up against the insensitive corporate culture when she sued the company. Sherry mentions that most of us would run for our lives against a giant corporation with such deep pockets. But Jane chose to stand up for herself and millions of disabled people. The result was a landmark case that tested the reach of the ADA law.
We Are All Disabled in Some Way
Dr. Nancy talks about how many millions of people are now disabled and will become disabled with the graying of America. Yet with all of the advancements of health care, we no longer die of illness that would have ended our lives in earlier times. We live with diabetes, heart disease and even stage 4 cancers. Since work is part of who we are, claiming disability inhibits us in more ways than limiting our ability to work and earning potential. Sherry suggests that for many people, disability allows people only to survive, not thrive.
Jane says that she only gives her MS five minutes out of every day. The remainder of her day is spent for herself. She now counsels abused women in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. She has moved on after being fired from the big corporation, but says that her childhood facing abuse gave her the courage to stand up to corporate abuse. She said that her dad fired her when he abused her mother and it felt the same.
Corporate Culture: An Entity of Its Own
Sherry tells about how Jane’s attorney stated in his opening and closing remarks that the company that fired Jane was guilty of arrogance, apathy and indifference. And it is not unique. She said it was like having an inside view of what it is to be a corporate culture. But in this case the victim stood up. Dr. Nancy talks about how it’s almost hip today, a trend among companies to give back to the community and reach out to help others.
Sherry and Jane say the way to keep that trend going is to speak up. Voice your views on the conversation on their website: www.calltowitness.com. Both of them blog on it and it’s completely open to comments. There’s also a link there to the MS Society and part of the proceeds of the book go to help MS research. Check out the site and read Jane’s compelling story. It could empower you to stand up too.