Eight-year-old Tommy knocks on the front door of a neighbor’s home and a lady answers. “Hi, Mrs. Johnson,” he says. “Can Billy come out and play baseball with us?
"With a sad face, Mrs. Johnson replies: “Tommy, you know Billy has no arms and legs.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Johnson,” Tommy responds. “We just need a home plate.”
Nobody tells tasteless jokes like that anymore, not even eight-year-old boys, and the world is a better place as a consequence. Still, there may be an insight to be gleaned from this particular example of sick humor.
For one thing, certain disabilities preclude certain activities. Like it or not, they just do. Trying to pretend that they don’t is an exercise in futility and frustration.
On the other hand, certain disabilities can sometimes be accommodated. Then again -- even with great exertion, expense, and inconvenience -- sometimes they can’t. In which case, any attempt to accommodate them is, ultimately, a wasted effort -- aside from the value of demonstrating a willingness to be accommodating if possible.
Working in a coal mine would seem to be one of those jobs least accommodating to disabilities. It’s hard, exhausting, dangerous work for a person in good physical condition. Minor handicaps might be surmountable for someone wanting to work in the mines, but serious ones surely are prohibitive.
It behooves a conscientious employer to reject job applicants whose disabilities pose serious risk of injury to themselves or others.
That, apparently, is what Mechel Bluestone and Dynamic Energy did two years ago when they refused to hire Mirland Richmond after he failed to pass a physical.
Last month, Richmond filed suit against the two coal mining companies in Wyoming Circuit Court, accusing them of violating the West Virginia Human Rights Act.
Let’s hope judge and jury have more sense than the smart-aleck eight-year-old in a macabre, outdated joke and recognize that, in some situations, certain disabilities simply cannot be accommodated.