Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Bank Doors Open Wider as Disabilities Act Looms

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Bank Doors Open Wider as Disabilities Act Looms

Article excerpt

Diana Galli spent two years looking for a job before she landed a position as a teller at California Republic Bank, Bakersfield ($542 million in assets), this past October. Galli felt that her quadriplegia (paralysis in both arms and legs) kept her out of work all that time.

"They're looking at my abilities, not my disabilities," Galli says of California Republic Bank. Now, she says, "the only limitations I have are those I put on myself."

"You should see her count money," Lind Quinones, the bank's corporate communications manager says of Galli, who has partial use of one hand. "She goes faster than I could."

Galli works at a teller station that was specially built to accommodate a wheelchair on both the teller side and the customer side, one of the 13 that California Republic is in the process of installing.

The new teller stations, which can be used by anybody, are part of an overall effort California Republic started over a year and a half ago to better accommodate disabled customers and employees.

"We want to help citizens that need an extra hand to get started, through both facility accessibility and employment," says Thomas H. Shaffer, CEO.

Shaffer became interested in the welfare of disabled individuals through his association with Chuck Wall, a professor at Bakersfield College who happens to be blind. Shaffer was impressed with Wall's achievements and the two formed a coalition between the university and the bank to hire disabled students.

Another reason for the bank's interest in people with disabilities is that they represent 15% of the population of the bank's town, Bakersfield.

The number of disabled people nationwide is growing at a rate of 100,000 a month and about 45 million Americans are disabled, according to the California Rehabilitationh Department.

While the bank's original intentions were to better serve its community, its efforts have positioned it to comply with provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in July of 1990. The bank figures it should be in complete compliance by July 1992.

Running start. California Republic is not the only bank that started trying to better provide for disabled people before the ADA was passed.

Many banks, particularly large ones and those that are in states that have strict building codes or laws similar to ADA (such as California), started providing access and accommodations to disabled customers and employees long ago as part of good business practices or to be in compliance.

Bank South Corp., Atlanta, for example, started becoming more accessible and hiring disabled workers in 1973 when, as a federal contractor, it had to comply with the Rehabilitation Act, a law similar to ADA that applies to organizations that contract with the federal government. Since then a lot of what the bank has done on its own initiative has brought it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Rather than look at this as a requirement, we look at it as a way to offer better service to our customers and to our employees," says Matthew Lewis, communications manager. "Convenience is convenience, whether you have a disability or not," he adds.

At Banc One, Columbus, "we've looked at the act in a selfish way," says John Russell, vice-president of communications. "Our objective is to generate new customers. We are formally looking for ways to make it easier for people to open accounts at and get into our bank."

What the act says. The Americans with Disabilities Act has about 300 pages of regulations that affect banks. The two main sections that pertain to banks are Title I, which affects them as employers and will be enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Title III, which affects them as "public accommodations" and will be enforced by the Department of Justice. (Title II affects state and local governments. …

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