Janet's Conner

This Blog tell the Truth and will never not tell the Truth. Impeach Bush

Saturday, August 05, 2006


"You see before you a woman with a broken body not a broken mind."

Firing stirs debate on disability rights

Veterans health system terminates social worker with cerebral palsy

VA Watchdog dot Org
By" Julie Patel
Mercury News

When people review Cheryl Hewitt's resume, they see an award winning social worker with 18 years of experience who is also a grass-roots organizer in the campaign for disability rights. When they meet the woman behind the resume, they see a cerebral palsy victim in a wheelchair, her arms having spasms sporadically and her head sometimes tilted to one side.

But last week, Hewitt drew notice as a social worker who had just been fired, in an incident that had made her a cause celebre in the disability rights community.

"You see before you a woman witha broken body but not a broken mind," Bill Luttrell told an audience of 35 people gathered to support Hewitt's discrimination complaint against her employer, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care Syste,.

Hewitt's official last day was Friday. She says hospital managers told her that she violated patient confidentiality when she allowed her cousin to write down personal information---last names and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers---after he watched her struggle to make them legible with her shaky handwriting.

The complaint---filed by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2110---argues that Hewitt's misstep was forced upon her, because her employer failed to make legaly required "reasonable accommodations" for her disability. Hewitt had asked for equipment that would allow her to transcribe names, but she did not receive anything that worked for her until after the incident, they say.

Hospital officials say that can't provide details about Hewitt's employment because of the pending complaint but they hint that there were other problems. They said they usually provide feedback to employees and document probelms before making employment decisions.

"The VA Palo Alto Health Care System recognizes that people with disabilities are valued and contributing members of our society," spokesman Kerri Childress wrote in an e-mail to the Mercury News. She said more than 176 of the hospital's 2,800 staffers have disabilities.

In Hewitt's termination letter, which she provided to the Mercury News, hospital managers cited the confidentiality violation and a failure to turn in reports about patients' progress---a critical job responsibility.

Hewitt said her boss talked to her about not meeting deadlines. Hewitt asked for a faster dictation service than the one hired by the hospital, which turns out notes in 24 hours. She said she was told that hospital representatives would look into it, but she heard nothing more. Hewitt said her boss also told her that her notes were not detailed enough and when she made them more thorough, she was told they were too long.

Hewitt is aware of how people view her and her disability: They might pat her head, smile politely, or avoid looking at her altogether.

She recalls being a curious child stuck in a special-education classroom, where the most difficult assignment on a given day was how to make paper plate masks. A psychiatrist had to tell college admissions departments that she is not mentally disabled. Hewitt attended 24 funerals---of disabled freinds---before finishing high school.

She vowed never to take her life for granted. "These people never had a chance to achieve their dreams and show the world what they could do," she said.

She's worked hard to find ways around the physical disability. To get dressed, she uses a bar over her bed to pull her body to one side. She slips on one side of her pants, pulls herself on her other side, pulls the other side and keeps going---twisting and turning---until they're on.

Her patience with these small challenges in life helped her overcome the big ones: By 1988, she had received her bachelor's and master's degrees in social work and since then, she has held down a job for all but five months. When she was unable to find work in her field in 1999, she took a temporary job as a door greeter at a Meijer store.

She was on the White House lawn in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hewitt said that moment---and the fight that led to it---validated for her that people with disabilities didn't need millions in dollars in government assistance over their lifetimes; they needed civil rights and labor protection.

The first time in her career that she took disability pay was in August, when she lost her job and couldn't find a new one. The Palo Alto job was on a one-year trial basis but she gladly took it, moving 2,400 miles away from her home. Before she moved, she said she told the hospital what she would need to meet deadlines, including a special keyboard and mouse and possibly a writing assistant.

She received the mouse and keyboard in late April---after the incident in which her cousin wrote out the patient information for her.

Union officials such as Janie Patterson organized a meeting at Hewitt's church, Crosswalk Community Church in Sunnyvale, this week.

Pastor John Chrisite e-mailed a video of the talk, along with phone numbers for hospital managers and elected officials, to the church's more than 300 members. One church member, who is in the Army, said Hewitt is as brave as all the soldiers he has met.

Hewitt said she's faced with leaving an apartment she can't afford and going back to where she started last year, without a job. But she said the friends she has made in the Bay Area inspired her to do all she can to stay.

***In my opinion, since the Republican-run Congress has just approved more money for the Defense Department to build more weapons for our unsuccessful war in Iraq and God's know where else we'll end up, Bush has to take away from somebody else again. He's taken so much from the veterans that now, I think he's going to start on the disabled workers who work for the government. According to him and his religious beliefs, all disabled people are an abomination and should all be put into institutions! Maybe this is his way of doing it!


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