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ACCOMMODATIONS FOR EMPLOYEES WITH DISABILITIES

Elden E Wick
Southwest Human Development and
Wickee Rehabilitation Engineering
Phoenix AZ
Email: ewick@swhd.org and eewick@aol.com

Synopsis  

This paper begins with the premise that job accommodations for persons with disabilities are required under the American Disabilities Act, which provides the criteria or test of "reasonableness". We show that job accommodations are usually not very expensive, although there is a percentage of cases where need exceeds cost considerations and a costlier solution is put in place. An inexpensive solution may be as simple as rearrangement of equipment or workstation components. Nonetheless we support the arguments that accommodations can create opportunities for persons with functional limitations, reduce worker’s compensation and other insurance costs, and increase the pool of qualified workers for employment.

We begin by defining the essence of "reasonableness" in relation to job accommodation, move on to describe obligations and guidelines associated with the need to accommodate workers with disabilities, and discuss financial implications. We suggest a process, encouraged by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), for developing and implementing acceptable accommodations. We then offer an example of accommodations for work-sites. We finish with discussions of issues and elements of job accommodations associated with other disability types, such as arthritis, deaf/ hard of hearing, vision impairments, psychiatric and learning disabilities.

Introduction 

Accommodation for persons with disabilities has been an area worked on and discussed in open literature for some time. Frequently one finds articles concerning therapy processes and mechanisms to return health and functionality for those newly injured, or for the younger aged population.

It is less common to find materials and literature concerning those persons needing independent living accommodations as a way to manage their disability and go about their everyday lives. Many of these tasks can be formidable for those with disabilities, such as dressing themselves, or preparation and intake of daily sustenance, plus a myriad of other tasks just to cope with daily activities. Science and technology develops and offers assistive aids of many types and variety for assistance to these persons for succeeding - whether dependence or independence is involved in accomplishing tasks. Further the assistive technology may be thought of as applications of low or high tech. Low might mean modification to, or original use of simple everyday household items for assistance in accomplishing tasks. Examples can be thought of by most anyone - for example, screwing a cup hook into a wooden dowel to use as a sock-puller to assist in dressing, or using Velcro hooks and loops on gloves and eating utensils to assist holding onto a spoon or fork for eating.

Least common it seems is literature and discussion of issues concerning accommodations for those who wish to work, but are limited by some functional disability. Job accommodation methods show what might be reasonably done to aid the disabled population in doing needed job tasks by employers. This paper intends to focus discussion in this arena and suggest a process by which one or a team of persons with various rehabilitative skills can approach and solve issues of job accommodations. The intention is to convert job tasks that would inhibit a willing, but unabled person from doing the job, into doable work for that individual. In doing so, the team not only provides the person with opportunities for potentially productive work, but they also provide the employer with an expanded capable work force.

The nature of job accommodations include the more commonly recognized modifications for building access, i.e., curbs, ramps, automated door openers, accessible bathrooms and water fountains. Ergonomic workstations and office equipment suggest on-site methods for accessing desks, file cabinets, computers, automated controls, and even for physically intense tasks such as work tables. Accommodations may be made for telephone and other communications media. More importantly, they are possible on work sites as uncommon as cafeteria worker stations, and food service jobs. This is just the tip of the iceberg, while seeking to encourage an open mind about types of work and sites that can be fitted with accommodations for able persons with limiting conditions.

Discussions 

The American Disabilities Act highlights three requirements of significance to employers relative to job accommodations. Clearly one can identify the need to provide equal opportunity in the work place. This extends to the job application process as well. The second requires that employers enable workers with disabilities for performing essential job functions. Third they are to enable an employee with disability for enjoyment of benefits and privileges of employment.

The guidelines for these requirements are meant to discourage stereotypical perceptions associated with certain specific disabilities. Recognition of an individual’s abilities is the crux , such that the employer and employee can jointly discern and determine what accommodations will work for the disabled worker. In short, acceptance by the worker of what is provided to perform job tasks are crucial to the solution. Abandonment of the accommodating provisions will defeat the accommodation and job task efforts, and ultimately risks defeating the worker’s employment situation.

The essential aspect of accommodations for those with disabilities is reasonableness – for the employer as well as the employee. Giving some examples of "reasonable" accommodations at the work-site may help in grasping the idea. Here is a listing:

  1. Make existing facilities readily accessible;
  2. Purchase new equipment;
  3. Modify existing equipment;
  4. Restructure the job, work needs and related tasks;
  5. Change the work schedule;
  6. Reassign a newly disabled person to another job that they are able to do;
  7. Change tests or elements of a test/ exam, and training materials;
  8. Change the company’s policies;
  9. Hire an assistant for reading or interpreting for the disabled person, e.g., blind individual;
  10. Permit use of accrued or unpaid leave for treatments and therapy;
  11. Make employer-provided transportation available;
  12. Provide reserved parking to an individual with disability;
  13. Provide personal assistance as required by persons with disability.

When discussing accommodations, many employers have perceptions of high expenses and prolonged delay in getting the job done. The Job Accommodation Network1 in Morgantown WV (West Virginia University) has accumulated much data on a large cross section of job types and various accommodating systems. There are some surprising conclusions when the data is evaluated. In 31 percent of the cases, there was no cost whatsoever in providing job accommodations. Cost less than $50 account for 19 percent; costs between $51-500 account for 19 percent; costs between $501-1000 account for 19 percent; and 11 percent cost between $1001-5000. In only 1 percent of job accommodation cases did costs exceed $5000.

Another area that would interest employers is tax incentives associated with job accommodation efforts. Several laws and programs merit mentioning.

  1. Public Law 101-508, The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (OBRA ’90), which provides a tax credit for expenses in providing access for disabled persons. Covered under the Internal Revenue Source (IRS) Code Section 44.
  2. Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal Deduction which is covered under IRS Code Section 190.
  3. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, State Vocational Rehabilitation Programs, that instituted on-the-job training programs.
  4. Workforce Investment Act which should phase-in about July 2000.
  5. Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) Program.

Those issues faced by a person needing job assisting elements are the beginning "roots" of the job accommodation process. A process infers an understood science or practice of art that can be applied in reaching productive and useful ends. In suggesting a process for accommodating job tasks of employees facing disability, these issues first need to be understood. One can do so by asking a series of questions suggested by JAN.

  1. What symptoms or limitations is the individual experiencing?
  2. To what degree do these symptoms or limitations affect the person and the person’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of the symptoms and limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problematic job tasks? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the person to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  6. Does education of supervisory personnel and employees need to be conducted regarding the disability, or regarding the ADA as well as other related public laws and programs?

The process itself regarding provision of reasonable accommodations is straightforward. Foremost, the worker requiring accommodation should be consulted and involved in the decision making process. The accommodation development must focus on work-related task functions for the employee. Then identify and investigate all possible accommodation options. Be sure to explore feasibility of implementing each option at the work-site and its probable effectiveness in satisfying the needed job functions. Then weigh the individual’s preference in what is offered as accommodating approaches for him/her. Finally select, and implement, the accommodating approach. And do not forget to conduct periodic follow-up on successful use of the implemented accommodating elements.

An example of this sequence is appropriate here:

"A person has a condition of periodic, severe balance difficulty. It causes him to unexpectedly fall backwards regardless his standing posture, unless he has a stabilizing assistance to remain upright. He has received interest in his employment at a cafeteria as a service line person. The manager is very sensitive to the value of employing persons with disabilities, and has firsthand knowledge of ADA. In order for the disabled person to be employed and placed in the line, he requires an assistive technology solution that would allow him to manage his balance. He would be expected to work around the line and be able to move from one cafeteria line station to another as the employers’ need arose. The tasks also include: (a) transporting food from the kitchen to the food holding locations, (b) preparation of individual food services, (c) replacing or removing prepared dishes on the food bins, and (d) assisting customers in their food service selections.

The employee volunteered to participate in finding an accommodation for his job, since he was very excited about this job opportunity. The team members selected to address the accommodation were the employee, cafeteria manager, and rehabilitation engineer. Also, included was the employee’s doctor inasmuch as an understanding of the employee’s balance issues was needed.

After preliminary investigations, the rehab engineer suggested a tripod standing stool, modified with wheels on each leg for movement about the line. Brakes were added to the design or holding the stool in place once positioned on the line. An enhancement was added to satisfy the employee’s request for self-control of the brakes by adding a hand handle and control wire. These permitted him to actuate a control handle, set the brake, and lock the wheels in place. Time and task analysis was run with the employee and employer participating to judge effectiveness, suitability in allowing quick access to food services, and the ability for other employees to accomplish their tasks without hindrance from this stool and its use. Results pleased the employee and employer. Costs were about $300. Acquisition of parts and modifications were expected to take a month."

Conclusions

After placing the accommodation for the disabled cafeteria worker, follow-up on suitability and functionality would be a way to manage risk of abandonment by periodic visits. No change to this accommodation was required.

In the above example, we chose a physical disability as the illustration for applying the suggested job accommodation process. There are significant other disability types where this same process can be applied in re-entering a willing worker into useful employment. Some of these are: workers with disabling arthritis, cumulative trauma disorder or repetitive stress injury, deaf or hard-of-hearing issues, vision impairment, psychiatric impairment, and learning disability.

Summary

Job accommodations when needed were discussed for those with disabilities to facilitate their employment. The significant aspects of the ADA were presented, and the criterion of reasonableness was emphasized. Employer concerns were addressed with discussions of costs and tax incentives. Issues for determining accommodations, especially from the user, or disabled persons perspective were presented. This led seamlessly into discussions of the proposed process for finding suitable options for accommodations to assist employees with disabilities, wherein a selection and implementation for an accommodating solution was expected. Follow-up on the consumer and his acceptance of the assertive aids was offered as a concluding step. Then an example was given concerning a food service worker with a balance disability who was able to work on a cafeteria line after being presented with a job accommodation. Finally, we suggested disability types for other applications of the process of accommodating employees with disabilities.

References

1 - Job Accommodation Network, 1-800-526-7234 (V/TTY)

Located at: West Virginia University, PO Box 6080, Morgantown, WV 26506-6080


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