Let’s talk about a man by the name of Joe Stutts. Unless you’ve studied disability history, you have probably never heard of him before.
Joe had gone to school during a time when dyslexia was not recognized by most schools, and it wasn’t accommodated for as it is today. He had the familiar story in his elementary school days of doing well until they got to learning how to read and write. It was then that he started failing, and the teachers suggested he be put in a separate class with other disabled students.
A clip from Headstrong Nation.
When he came of age he was drafted into the military, and worked as a cook. He was able to prove himself without needing to read or write because their teaching methods were all verbal instead of written. Contrary to his experience in school, he did extremely well with the tests in the military. In fact, some people accused him of cheating because they knew he couldn’t read.
After he finished his tour of duty, he returned home. By the late 1970s was working for the Tennessee Valley Authority as a laborer. In 1979, he applied for an apprenticeship program to be a heavy equipment operator.
He was denied this opportunity because of his low scores on the required testing. Since the testing was only offered in writing, he received a very low score.
The next step for him was to go to doctors for further testing regarding his dyslexia. After IQ tests and a verbal version of the test, it was shown that he was of above average intelligence. If you offer the test in verbal format, there was no doubt that he would have achieved a high score.
The problem came in when the TVA attempted to get verbal testing from the testing facility. They were unable to, because the company said the exam could not be translated into a verbal format.
Despite limited effort to get an appropriate equivalent of the exam and foreknowledge of Joe’s dyslexia, he was denied access to this apprenticeship program.
At this time, the Americans With Disabilities Act did not exist, but the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was in place.
He used this act to take his dilemma to the next level. In this lawsuit, Stutts v The Tennessee Valley Authority, it was found that the TVA did not make adequate accommodations for him. This is because they only offered a test inaccessible to learning disabled people for the position.
Further, it was ruled that the job itself did not require extensive reading to be done in the course of an average day. The only point where reading is necessary is during the training, which could be accommodated for easily with the help of a reader.
In the end, it was determined that Joe would be able to perform the duties as a heavy equipment operator adequately. The TVA was not forced to accept him into the apprenticeship program or hire him, but only to give him proper accommodation to have access to at least try to enroll in the program.
This case is one of the landmark incidences in recognizing dyslexia accommodation as necessary in the workplace for fair treatment of employees.
Although Joe didn’t go to these lengths with the greater good in mind, his brave actions still have a positive effect to this day.
Not everybody reads for pleasure, but it is still a necessary skill in today’s world. However, disabilities associated with reading can be accommodated for, and this landmark lawsuit is what makes these accommodations legally protected.