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Disability-friendly workplace

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The following article was written in response to a technical assistance question that the Work RERC received. Please add to this article with your own suggestions / experiences.


Question

A large office-based company is looking for the “next step” in making their work environment more user-friendly to people with disabilities. They are currently ADA compliant, however, they want to do more. How should they proceed?


Response

The section of the ADA that deals with employment, Title I, says that accommodations need to fit the individual employee. Thus, until you know who is working there and what they will be doing, a company is limited on how much can be done. A risk of putting accommodations in place for future hires is that a company could spend money on accommodations that won’t be used.

Instead, perhaps a better focus would be to address making the workplace a bit easier to access for the existing employees, with or without “disabilities.”

Suggestions:

  • Start by determining a process for how an employee can request an accommodation and how that will be implemented. Make sure that all of the managers (and employees) know how that process works. Too often, a person will make a request, but and then nothing happens because no one knows what to do next. Having some policies and practices established will make things easier down the road.
  • Look at the workplace needs of all employees. When we think about disability, we often think about people using wheelchairs. But low back pain and carpal tunnel are actually the top two disabling conditions in the workplace. In addition, with an aging workforce, we will likely be encountering more mild arthritis, low vision, and hearing aid use in the workplace. The Work RERC recently studied a company that has their IT department (though it could be a different group) check on every employee about once a year to see how they are doing (e.g., whether they need a different chair, mouse). Their employees are happier, people who are experiencing mild disability issues might get them addressed without having to formally admit they have a “disability”, and it helps avoid workers comp problems and absenteeism.
  • Be aware of easy-to-implement computer accommodations. Specifically, there are some accessibility features built into both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems. This can allow you to easily make the icons just a bit bigger, use an onscreen keyboard, etc. Make sure that the computer support people at the company know how to activate these features.
  • Don’t forget the company website. Companies often forget that accessibility needs to begin even before the person is hired. Is their job application accessible? In addition to meeting ADA requirements for the worksite, have the company take a look at the Rehab. Act Section 508 guidelines for IT and web information. Officially, it only applies to Federal agencies, but the guidelines can be useful for any business.
  • Get suggestions from other businesses who are hiring people with disabilities. There is a group called the US Business Leadership Network that is a consortium of companies that promote hiring of people with disabilities. They can provide peer-to-peer suggestions about how to proceed.


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