2004 Conference Proceedings

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COMBINING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY and ERGONOMICS INTO ONE EFFECTIVE SERVICE CENTER

Presenters
Bruce A. McFarlane
USDA TARGET Center
1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Room 1006-South
Washington, D.C. 20250
Ph: 202-720-2600
Fax: 202-720-2681
Email: brucea.mcfarlane@usda.gov

Betty Gahn
USDA Midwest TARGET Center
1520 Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63103
Ph: 314-335-8957
Email: betty.gahn@stl.rural.usda.gov

The USDA TARGET Centers were created to assist individuals with disabilities find the technologies necessary to enable the individual to be a productive and successful employee. We have evolved to ensure that not only people with disabilities but also those experiencing pain or discomfort are also addressed. Currently, laws do not require businesses and agencies to respond to the needs of individuals not classified as disabled. The TARGET Centers' response to these needs have proven that fewer USDA employees are suffering disabling conditions due to the ergonomic evaluations of their office environment.

New employees with disabilities coming into an office environment find that hiring officials are anxious to find the technologies available to ensure their success in employment. However, these same hiring officials and supervisors often forget the other factors that go along with safe and effective employment, such as ergonomics. We have found that even after the technology needs are met the individual needs other safety devices such as a wrist rest for the keyboard, an ergonomic chair, or perhaps modifications to their workstation to ensure comfort and efficiency. Many employees who are not classified under the law as being disabled apply for accommodation under ADA only to be told they do not meet the criteria of an individual who is disabled. In many cases, these individuals have ergonomic needs.

When an individual applies for an accommodation and is notified they do not meet the criteria as defined by law as being disabled, the USDA TARGET Centers' move the employee into their ergonomic program. Administratively, our ergonomic program must address employee needs in a fair and equitable manner. To ensure equitable treatment, we have implemented a means of ranking requests so managers are aware of those employees with the highest priority. Each case is documented as "Priority 1" - doctor recommended or safety issue, "Priority 2" - assessment was performed and TARGET Center recommends, or "Priority 3" - the employee wants but not recommended by physician or TARGET Center. This priority ranking process ensures that management and agencies have a way to justify necessary purchases of ergonomic items as funds become available.

Cases classified as a "Priority 1" are purchased immediately because USDA recognizes physician recommendations or documented safety issues as conditions needing to be addressed and are necessary parts of doing business. These purchases reduce the cost of workers compensation claims (OWCP) and reduce absenteeism due to pain and doctors visits. When companies calculate the bottom line, they see the savings and increased productivity. Employees also win by reducing the amount of sick leaved used for repetitive strain injuries, and their morale improves as their workstation becomes a pain-free experience.

Cases classified as "Priority 2" alerts managers of potential problems and therefore should be factored into the cost associated with doing business. Employees who do not currently have a disability may become disabled if these problems are not addressed. It is in the best interest of management to address these issues and thereby reduce potential OWCP expenses. Managers can request a listing quarterly, semi-annually, or annually from the TARGET Center to determine if employee needs are being addressed. When funding is available, these needs are addressed on a first received basis. If questions arise on why one person received their equipment prior to another, it is answerable and demonstrates fair and equitable treatment of all employees.

Cases classified as "Priority 3" demonstrates to employees that although the request may or may not be urgently needed, managers can review the request and, as funds become available, purchase assistive or alternative devices after all "Priority 2" items have been obtained. This listing provides managers with an effective planning tool as well as giving the employees an opportunity to provide input in a non-confrontational atmosphere.

This course will demonstrate that when corporate or government programs focus on the needs of their employees, whether they are disabled or not, these programs tend to help all employees and make for a more productive workplace. This course will provide copies (priority listings) of exactly how the USDA TARGET Centers' provide assessments, provide vendor information, conduct training when appropriate, track and issue reports on purchases made.

The USDA TARGET Centers are recipients of the RESNA 2003 Leadership Award, not only for their continued excellence in providing assistive technology for USDA employees with disabilities, but also for establishing progressive and innovative programs such as our Ergonomics Training Program to prevent disabling conditions.


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