Suppose that you created an entire telemarketing division and hundreds of thousands of dollars for your company. Then you got a disabling disease and they fired you. What would you do? Jane Gagliardo sued her big pharma employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act and spoke out against unfair practices. International journalist and Presbyterian minister, Sherry Blackman tells Jane’s courageous story in Call to Witness: One Woman’s Battle with Disability, Discrimination and a Pharmaceutical Powerhouse, a book to be released May 1.
Dr. Nancy and Sherry discuss how work has become part of our identity as Americans. It’s the way we participate in the human community and achieve fulfillment. In fact, both women agree that when someone is labeled as “disabled” it robs us of something valuable. Work has almost become part of our DNA as Americans. Yet Sherry cites these statistics, “Over 21 million people between the ages of 16 and 64 suffer from a condition that affects their ability to work, accounting for 12% of the people in this age bracket.” Ironically, she also notes that there is no single, universally accepted definition of disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Sherry was studying for her master’s in divinity when a friend asked her to write about Jane’s story. The woman’s ability to stand alone and to stand up for what she believed impressed Sherry and she undertook what became a six-year project. She tells how intrigued she was by both Jane’s courage and energy in dealing with multiple sclerosis and the irony that a pharmaceutical company, supposedly in business to support health and wellness, fired someone because of a disability. The lawsuit became a landmark case for the disabilities act.
Sherry says ADA, enacted in 1990, sought to guarantee equal opportunity for people who have disabilities to public accommodation, commercial facilities, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications. It also required companies to make accommodations for their disabled employees to the degree that it was possible. Briefly, this included access to work areas and support for the work required. Filed in 1996, Jane’s lawsuit fought for her right to work under the law.
Is Being Female a Disability?
Sherry asserts that being female is almost a disability in itself. She describes how the women studying to be chaplains in seminary based their style of guiding people on male role models. In fact, women are newly accepted in the ministry and have few models of their own. Dr. Nancy brings up many professions that are hurting for women leaders. As women who “stood in the gap” while things supposedly changed in the 1960’s, women are still under-represented in politics, upper management, boards of directors and many professions. Sherry and Dr. Nancy discuss the importance of mentors and role models to help women like Jane to step out and make their voices heard in the face of discrimination.