The Department’s illegal questions of disabled workers over their able and available status and the Department’s general hostility towards disabled workers have already been documented.
But, what exactly are the Department’s obligations towards making the claims-filing process accessible to disabled folk? TMJ4 looked at this issue a few weeks ago and found that those with visual or hearing impairments are seemingly out-of-luck when trying to file an unemployment claim.
As Wisconsin currently only has one formal mechanism for filing unemployment claims — the on-line system — an administrative rule provides the relevant standard for when a disability of some kind is considered by the Department:
If the department provides for a single method for initiating a claim and a claimant has good cause for the claimant’s inability to use that method, the department shall provide reasonable accommodations for the claimant to be able to complete the claim. Good cause for failure to initiate a claim as prescribed by the department shall include, if it prevents the claimant from using the method prescribed by the department, any of the following:
(a) The claimant possesses physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitations.
(b) The claimant has unusual or unavoidable circumstances beyond the claimant’s control.
Note: The department shall notify claimants that it will consider alternate methods for initiating a claim if there is good cause for the claimant’s inability to use a computer-based program. In addition, the department shall provide claimants with information about how to request assistance with initiating a claim.
So, under this rule, a person with a physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitation or disability or a circumstance beyond the claimant’s control who needs help with the largely English-only on-line claim-filing system, that person has to first notify the Department of his or her difficulty or limitation in using the on-line only system. Only then will the Department attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation for that affected person.
The Department’s “notice” about how to request claim-filing assistance is the advice on this page:
For help using online services or if you are unable to go online call (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 during business hours.
To reduce wait times:
- If your last name begins with letter A to M please call
Monday – Friday 6:15 AM – Noon or
Saturday 7:00 AM – 1:30 PM
- If your last name begins with letter N to Z please call
Monday – Friday Noon – 5:30 PM or
Saturday 7:00 AM – 1:30 PM
This “advice” does not actually meet standard web accessibility standards, as the help information presented here can easily be skipped over, as there is no internal heading for this portion of the page to mark for special attention of any kind for accessibility purposes.
Moreover, the lack of any internal links means that tabbing through this page will lead to this information being skipped over completely. And, using a screen reader to voice this text produces nonsensical times and dates for calling the phone numbers for help, since the dashes used here are not words that can be read.
So, those who are blind or deaf are locked out of the unemployment claims-filing process, and this notice is in practical terms deficient. The blind and deaf either cannot “see” how to get help on this page or cannot “hear” the possible advice they might receive over the phone by calling the phone numbers indicated.
Certainly, the Department’s emphasis on on-line only claim-filing is making things worse. Notably, this push for everything on-line predates the pandemic, as the Department closed hearing offices before the pandemic struck and has since closed job support centers in Manitowoc, Medord, and Tomah in lieu of on-line access, phone calls, public libraries, and other unspecified community locations.
There are countless claimants with learning disabilities in this state who are using the on-line claims-filing system because they think it is their only option. And, they are making countless mistakes with their claims or just giving up completely, because they cannot adequately understand or navigate the claims-filing questions asked of them. They are, in essence, being punished for their disabilities by the Department’s intractable antagonism towards those who do not have the kind of on-line access, resources, understanding, and physical or mental ability the Department wants claimants to have before filing their claims.
That these problems have continued now almost a year after this pandemic started indicates even more how difficult it is to bring basic decency back into the realm of unemployment.
The claim-filing troubles and dead-ends that far too many have experienced during this pandemic are symptomatic of this larger problem of limited access for those with disabilities. How the claim-filing system is designed and administered in this state is the central question that few are confronting.