State Bar of Michigan
Volume 6, Issue 1, March 2010

Committee on Justice Initiatives and Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Project

Disabilities Project Newsletter

Self Identification Notice Under the ADA
by William Milzarski, Rights Specialist,
Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability civil rights laws offer many protections to people with disabilities. However, if proper notice isn't given, a valid argument can successfully be made that accommodating the request can be denied. For instance, if an employer is not aware that a person is diabetic (and therefore possibly a qualified person with a disability under the law) and must manage their blood sugar level by eating at specific times, the employer may be justified in restricting food in the work area or unscheduled breaks. If the employer isn't aware of the need for accommodations, how can they be held to a standard of accommodating a person with a disability? The same holds true for other disability related access issues. This Disabilities Project Newsletter will focus on how the person with a disability requests an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (MPDCRA), and the Fair Housing Laws.

There are two ways notice can be given: actual and constructive. Actual notice is accomplished by verbal or written notice to the entity giving the service to the person with a disability. Constructive notice is accomplished by the entity presuming to have knowledge of the disability or need to accommodate. An example of constructive notice in a rental housing situation could be the applicant meeting with the rental manager about renting an apartment. The applicant is blind and uses a service animal. The manager sees that the applicant is blind and is using the service animal as a mobility aid. The manager, upon realizing this, has constructive notice of the applicant's visual disability and the possible need to accommodate the person and waiving the "no pets" policy; service animals are tools to assist the person with a disability and not pets. This constructive notice may be enough to meet the threshold in a civil rights case of disability discrimination; however, it is always good practice to give actual notice as well.

Many disability discrimination civil rights have been lost due to the "he said she said" argument of actual notice. One party saying, "You never told me you needed an accommodation" while the other side says, "Yes, I did" can devastate a valid case. Legal professionals recognize the need to have certain things written down as proofs. Actual notice is one of these. Whenever a person with a disability requests an employment accommodation, modification to a program, service, facility, or access to property or goods and services, written actual notice is a must. The following is a boilerplate Self Identification Notice and Request Letter. Please note that different situations require different language which can be complex, so please insert the relevant laws into the areas identified.

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