TORRANCE — Should illiteracy be considered a handicap deserving of special accommodations in applying for city jobs?
No, the City Council decided this week. The council denied a request by a four-year city employee, who says he is illiterate, to have a reader help him take a written test for a promotion.
Councilman Mark Wirth said he voted to uphold the Civil Service Commission's rejection of the request because "we might find out down the road that because of a reading problem, they can't do the job." Wirth was joined by Councilmen Dan Walker, Bill Applegate and George Nakano in voting against the request.
"I'm hard pressed to conclude that being illiterate is not a handicap" deserving of special consideration, said Mayor Jim Armstrong, who voted to grant the request.
Richard Roman, a driver-delivery clerk in the city Purchasing Department, was seeking a promotion to an auto parts storekeeper.
The issue was not whether reading skills are necessary for the job, but whether a policy on the handicapped adopted by the commission last year requires the city to provide a reader for the test. The policy provides for special testing arrangements for handicapped applicants, and defines as handicapped "any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities."
Civil Service Administrator William L. Ghio said that if Roman's problem were caused by a physical disorder, he would be willing to accommodate him with a reader, but if Roman simply had not learned to read, he would not be entitled to one.
In correspondence with the city, Roman said he is illiterate but claimed he had been taking reading instructions for about a year. He said his reading instructor had told him he might have a disorder that could be diagnosed with a brain scan. Roman said he requested this test through his medical insurance carrier, but was told that the company would not pay for such a test. Roman said he could not afford to pay the $500 for the test, so it was never done.
Ghio said Roman was asked to provide verification from his reading instructor about his possible physical disability. On the day of the test, Roman protested the demand for such verification. Ghio said Roman was told that he could take the test with the help of a reader but that the results might not be accepted by the Civil Service Commission. He said he recommended that Roman take the test while his protest was processed. Roman refused.
Ghio said the reading level of the test is consistent with the skill level required to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the job. According to the bulletin announcing the opening for the auto parts storekeeper, candidates must be able to:
- Communicate effectively in writing.
- Read, comprehend and communicate technical information related to the ordering and purchasing of automotive, truck and equipment replacement parts and assemblies.
- Maintain and process accurate shipment and billing records.
- Understand and carry out written instructions.
"Given these requirements it is difficult to see how an individual who cannot read can fully function in this job," Ghio said. "Mr. Roman's statement that he is not handicapped but is illiterate precludes his consideration for special accommodation in the testing process."
In his letter of protest to the commission last month, Roman said that although he believes he needs a reader for the test, he thinks he could read well enough to do the job. He said his experience proves he is qualified to order parts and keep proper records.
Roman did not appear at the City Council meeting and he could not be reached for comment. Jean Roulston, a director on the board of the union, represented Roman at the meeting and presented a letter in support of him.
According to Roman's application for the new job, he was graduated from Putnum Tech High School in Springfield, Mass., and worked as an auto mechanic from March, 1977, to April, 1981. In addition to servicing vehicles, Roman indicated that he also ordered parts.
Roman moved to California and in August, 1981, he was hired by the city--where his brother worked in the garage department--as an equipment attendant in the city warehouse, stocking shelves and picking up and delivering supplies he ordered. The job did not require a written test.
In October, 1983, his job was upgraded to driver-delivery clerk, which did require a written test. According to Ghio, Roman requested and received a reader for that examination because the city had not yet defined handicapped and provided readers for anyone who requested one.
Ghio said the vacancy will now be filled by another applicant.