Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Gary Norman, Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, Accommodating the Accommodators, service animals, emotional support animals,

Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Gary Norman

Accommodating The Accommodators

Part I: Interview with Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M. Virtually in New York
Conducted, Hosted, and Sponsored by Hamilton Law and Mediation, PLLC

Start of Interview

Debra Hamilton:

Hi, this is Debra Hamilton and Gary Norman at the end of October 2018. We’re here today to give a little information and input on this, the disability month of October; discussing how people with disabilities, and animals that serve them, can better be understood by the general public. This interview will actually be a two-part series. So without further ado, I want to introduce my wonderful colleague, Gary Norman, who is assisted by his wonderful dog, Bowie, and I want to ask everyone to take a minute out of their day with their work aside and listen to how we help people resolve conflicts that arise over the use of or the inclusion in a public space of a service animal or even an emotional support animal. So Gary, how are you doing today?

Gary Norman:

I’m great. It’s been a busy day. I represented the Board of Commissioners of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights at a meeting this morning. A new partnership between Maryland Non-profits and the Commission, where we had a kickoff speaker series. We’ve created an equity speakers series and the speech was about the idea of unconscious bias. So it’s fitting that we talk about that today, which is a day during the month of National Disability Employment Month, which recognizes our continued goal to make sure that people with disabilities are fully employed in the workplace.

Debra Hamilton:

Absolutely. Even if people with disabilities are employed in the workplace, understanding how those with disabilities might come with an animal; and how to accommodate them and accommodate the people in the workplace with them. Your reaction?

Gary Norman:

Yes. So the truth is that most people with disabilities are either unemployed or under-employed. By the grace of the Grand Architect, I’m at least reaching, very fully employed, and certainly have a very prosperous career. But unfortunately, I know the challenges. I know the discrimination that many people with disabilities face. For me, I get to live with those, or suffer those benefits and challenges with my side-kick Bowie.

In terms of my career, this means that I’m partnered with a service animal and the public space: in this context, an employer or a place of employment. So that does really involve a couple of things.

Number one, it involves sort of technical, legally speaking, workplace accommodations or reasonable accommodations. But then the way I view the law is that it’s a floor, not a ceiling. So it also involves the concept that Debra and I have developed together: the idea of on-the-spot conflict resolution, or if you use a different kind of language where we had the pleasure of speaking at the ABA, a concept called being relational. We also call it being organic or organic conversation, the idea of bilateral interaction with others.

If the law is one thing, and there are technical requirements; this could be its own podcast or audio recording on the idea of reasonable accommodations, the technical requirements of reasonable accommodations. But the larger question is how do we, how do we wrap our arms around providing reasonable accommodations to people with service animals for better, for worse, that may indeed involve conflict.

Moreover, I think it’s fair to say that Debra and I think there’s a conversational piece to that law area or legal area that is not fully addressed right now. That’s, I think, the space that Debra and I can uniquely fill together, at least in the animal context.

Debra Hamilton:

Absolutely. So Gary and I have worked tirelessly to build a practice that empowers people to have a conversation that actually works to educate and solve an issue, instead of escalate and fire up an issue. It’s not that we don’t believe that accommodations under the law are to be respected. Rather, nine times out of 10, and Gary correct me if I’m wrong; most people don’t even know what the law is, if they don’t have a service animal. Even some people, who have service animals, don’t necessarily know exactly the law. Or if they do, they’re told about how to be confrontational when those laws are not followed. We have brought into our practice, as Gary said, being relational and on-the-spot as a strategy for this, which is to recognize that we can have a carrot or a stick approach. And Gary and I have chosen to help people have a carrot.

That has to do with accommodating the accommodator or learning how to be a more effective service animal handler by educating people that just don’t know in a way that is impactful to them. Not because you’re angry, but because you have made it so clear to them in a peaceful way how they can help you. What do you think, Gary?

Gary Norman:

Um, what’s your question?

Debra Hamilton:

Well, I was talking about how we have worked together to build a program that enables people with service animals to be their best selves, to help educate someone instead of always going to that, you know, law-based discussion. Let’s go to the discussion that empowers people to ask questions and become more aware of what either you as a service animal handler can or cannot do or people in the public sector; what they are required to do. But in a way that’s not confrontational.

Gary Norman:

Sure. So I think we can de-box that. One thing I think that law schools are starting to evolve towards is the idea of law is a toolbox. I was recently on a call with somebody who sort of references law in a negative way. In the past, it’s been about litigation or tearing people down in my view. Hopefully, law schools are starting to involve. I think they have done more so, arriving at the idea of the toolbox. So the law is an important tool, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox for a lawyer or a lawyer public servant.

Generally, in our society, we wouldn’t have most dogs in a federal facility, or state facility, or even private employer; unless there was a law connection. That a certain Fido is providing a task, or is a service animal. What troubles me is that that becomes a very strict, reasonable accommodations discussion, instead of really two things. What are the goals of reasonable accommodations? Indeed, certainly what are those specific legal requirements, but ultimately how do we move beyond that inclusively so that we’re building more opportunities and breaking glass ceilings?

Debra Hamilton:

Right. We’re building bridges as opposed to putting up walls. So we’re enabling the people, who are accommodating the person who needs an animal in a way where they feel as if they’re part of the discussion. I think what Gary and I have always believed is that the law is there to protect the rights of the disabled who need pets — not pets, excuse me, service animals. The need to educate those on service animals has not necessarily been as peaceful as it could be as a conversation. and most of the time, the ability to have a conversation and listen for understanding would give both the service dog handler as well as the person in the same space with the service dog handler a better understanding and a more peaceful resolution to whatever questions they might have.

Conclusion Part I:

This is Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton of Hamilton Law and Mediation and Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M., Attorney, Consultant, and Convener (Vice Chair at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and other credentials) talking to you about how to celebrate bringing all sorts of people into your employment facility, disabled and able; and how to really accommodate them and have that conversation, so they all can live peacefully together.

Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Gary Norman

Accommodating The Accommodators

Part II: Interview with Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M. Virtually in New York
Conducted, Hosted, and Sponsored by Hamilton Law and Mediation, PLLC

Start of Interview

Debra Hamilton:

We are back with my friend, an incredible lawyer with a disability, Gary. I found Part I so captivating on how we have that conversation.

Gary Norman:

Thanks for the second part of this interview. To start quickly, there’s a real space in reasonable accommodations questions, service animal questions in the workplace context, for building bilateral relationships. Bilateral conversations. That doesn’t have to be so heavy-handed as to come down from an EEO officer, EEO office. But it takes each of us being committed to the idea of partnering for inclusion. And then it really takes both of us on both sides — those with a dog like myself, those who are able-body to have that important conversation. For good or for bad. I love Bowie in the office. I don’t love Bowie in the office. Bowie is a great and well-behaved guide dog. Bowie today is something that wasn’t appropriate for a guide dog. But Instead of resorting to squaring off in a very strict legal based context; really having that bilateral, open frame of mind and openness to crucial conversations.

Debra Hamilton:

I think that is so important, because the crucial conversation comes in respecting how everybody feels. And especially with respect to service animals, which are much different than emotional support animals. Some people are being brushed with a brush that they shouldn’t be; because they may not have as visible a need for their service animal as, as a blind person does. Because you can see that a blind person might be blind, but we know Gary, there are incredible service animals that are in place for epileptics, people who suffer from epilepsy, who suffer from diabetes, who suffer from PTSD and those are a little bit different. And how do you have that conversation or how do you facilitate that conversation while also maintaining the privacy levels that we all want to keep in place for a person living with these kinds of disabilities?

Gary Norman:

It impacted me, this morning at the bias training, or trying to prevent bias. At the end of the training, which was delivered by an incredible equity Subject Matter Expert, we interacted with some sort of excel chart; and she asked different questions. How do you identify your spouse? What does your spouse do? What are these different networks? And what it showed is hopefully you’re not, you’re not of such a narrow mind frame; that in the end result, you have this big expansive network. So if you have more network, if you have more connectivity, even speaking from a neural science perspective, then you’re going to be more open to these conversations.

If you have a very narrow set of networks (where I’m not trying to set a quota) if Gary is the only person you’ve ever had with a guide dog; that’s really going to limit your response to these issues.

So if you can build that framework to have organic openness to meeting diverse people and hopefully diverse people with service animals; that will probably really help you as you get into the reasonable accommodation question to figure out really what is the best. Certainly what’s legally required, but what’s best for all in this situation.

Debra Hamilton:

These multilevel discussions are so key. It’s so important to make sure that everyone is heard because it’s not just all about the service dog handler, but it’s about the people in their space so that everyone can understand and be respectful. And I think that’s what sometimes is lost. Um, you said binary, but I think sometimes it’s, it’s multilateral discussions because there is so many people involved in the discussion.

I think it’s great that you went to the implicit bias training on this day for this conversation because a lot of times we do carry our implicit bias with us because of the experiences we’ve had; and how do we address those. Maybe you can give us a little insight into the tips this program provided for you on how to recognize your implicit bias. And what to do once you recognize it; if you can.

Gary Norman:

I would also say there is a real need to have champions, to have diverse champions. So that really involves us, as a society, breaking glass ceilings. So that we have more people with disabilities who have service animals as champions. In terms of the training today, I think we wrapped up with a few good points.

Number one, we need to continue training ourselves and training others on these questions. In this context, we’re talking about service animals; disability during employment month. We need to somehow, each of us as a lawyer public servant, find a way to continue to build a more empathic, compassionate society.

These questions make me feel like the book about grammar school, and what you’re supposed to learn in grammar school. That’s kind of what I thought of this morning. How much of this is the ancient words of civility, courtesy, and decorum that I just wrote in a speech for someone? How much is our society losing that both from technology and the divides that come from technology, such as from Twitter and such as from sound bites? We live in a time in which the civil rights and religious rights of others or greatly disrespected.

If we can, if we can be the true lawyer public servants we should be, and build a more compassionate society through inclusive law and inclusive best practices; that would be my hope for us as a profession and for people dealing with these animal type issues. And then thirdly, I think one tip that resonated with me from the training this morning that I would continue to use and our trainings with Debra here is the idea that, um, you know; there’s more commonality that unites us, than the differences that divide us. Unfortunately, in this day we have a conversation which saw Jewish people die, because they practice one religious faith and that’s not the kind of country our founding fathers wanted and certainly not the kind of country that we live up to as civil rights leaders when we start making less inclusive communities.

This is why this work that Debra and I do, it’s important both collectively and individually. And why the work that all of you do is so important individually and collectively.

Debra Hamilton:

Thank you so much Gary. I love when you wrap these things up the way you do because it is such a sixth sense that you have that creates the point-by-point coverage of what we discussed. I think the most important piece that you brought out was that we have a commonality; and if we take a moment to foster that conversation — what we have in common — instead of fostering the conversation on our differences, then civility will return to our lifestyles, to our country, and to our world. And as we close up this podcast, this recording for Employment Month with our contribution toward hiring more disabled parties; we leave you with this.

You will be incredibly better served by opening up your mind and your business to being able to work with, and along, the disabled in any venue. Because they; everyone, brings richness to a workplace. Everyone. So if we can just take a moment to recognize in this Employment Month that everyone brings something special to the workplace, and if we focus on our commonalities and not our differences; that always starts a conversation for the positive. If in fact, you are an employee with a disability, working in the way that Gary and I are hoping to educate people — both the disabled and the able to have a conversation – it is important to have an educational conversation, as opposed to simply law based. Because sometimes conversation is limited by the law. To the, to the quick, if, in fact, you start with the law. Any last thoughts, Gary?

Gary Norman:

Yeah. I would like to wrap up with this sort of syllogism. There’s data and calculus that shows scientifically there’s a value in diversity. Disability — sometimes it’s forgotten that disability is a part of diversity. Therefore there’s a real value in disability diversity in the workplace and making sure that we can help people with those extra supports and services they need to be productive in the workplace. To my mind, a real structural brand exists for those who are fortunate, like myself as a person partnered with some form of a working animal or a service animal like Bowie. So hopefully, if you have questions or comments on that, or require assistance; hopefully we can be of assistance to you and building a more diverse workplace.

Debra Hamilton:

Absolutely. And Gary, I love what you said, because everyone, whether they’re able or disabled have the ability to be their best selves and to bring their best selves to a conversation. And I think that’s the practice that we have been facilitating together. Having the ability to have a conversation that creates educational growth is something that was really important to both of us, which is why we have on-the spot-conflict resolution — being more relational and organically trying to find a different path. Not the negative litigious path, but the positive educational path to help everyone work alongside each other in a more peaceful way.

In the future, including, next year in 2019, we will be collectively providing trainings, mediation trainings for sure, grounded in these approaches and skills. We are both so given to partnering with others, that some of these trainings will also be provided with other great colleagues.

Conclusion Part II:

This is Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton of Hamilton Law and Mediation and Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M., Attorney, Consultant, and Convener (Vice Chair at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and other credentials) talking to you about how to celebrate bringing all sorts of people into your employment facility, disabled and able; and how to really accommodate them and have that conversation, so they all can live peacefully together. Gary may be contacted at (410) 241-6745 — preferably via text-based message.