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Your UCP: National September 01, 2003
Employment

DOL Fact Sheets

Making Management Decisions about Job Accommodations

An accommodation in the workplace is a reasonable adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform job duties. Put another way, an accommodation is an investment an employer makes in his or her business in order to make the business more efficient or profitable. For example, when word processing systems were proven to be much more efficient than typewriters, businesses invested in personal computers for their employees. Similarly, employers send employees to staff training classes and seminars to upgrade their skills. Decisions about making worksite accommodations for people with disabilities should be made in the same light as decisions about staff training or buying new office equipment. Successful accommodations are beneficial both to the employee and the employer.

Some Issues to Consider

When an employee with a disability requests an accommodation, the employer and employee should discuss the job duties, how the accommodation will assist the individual in performing his or her job, and possible alternative solutions. Among the issues to be considered are:

  • What are the functional limitations of the individual seeking the accommodation?
  • What specific job tasks are affected by the individual's functional limitations?
  • What types of equipment are used/needed to perform the job?
  • Are there work place policies or procedures that affect the individual's ability to perform the job?
  • Are all the necessary areas of the work environment accessible for this individual?
Where to Find Assistance

One resource available to both the employer and the employee in the accommodation decision-making process is the Office of Disability Employment Policy's Job Accommodation Network (JAN), accessed via a toll-free telephone call (800-ADA-WORK). JAN consultants will ask questions about the specific situation and will recommend adjustments in the worksite, administrative actions or product options that might be effective. Conversations with JAN consultants are confidential.

Fear or lack of information, both on the part of the employer and the employee, may be the greatest impediments. Both employers and employees should feel free to ask questions about the accommodation itself, as well as issues related to the accommodation.

Questions Employers Might Ask

  • How do I determine a reasonable accommodation for this particular situation?
  • Where can my company obtain these products and is it possible to purchase equipment on a trial basis, or is there a facility near the place of business where the equipment may be tested?
  • What if the accommodation doesn't work?
  • Where can I find local resources for services like worksite evaluations?
  • Who pays for the accommodation?
How a Satisfactory Solution is Reached

Since the implementation of the ADA, inquiries to JAN about accommodations have become increasingly complex. Following are examples of both complex and simple accommodations made by employers who have consulted JAN.

Case Study

  • Situation:A nurse was diagnosed with an allergy to latex. All gloves used in the medical facility are made of latex.

    Solution: Although the medical facility had already determined that it wanted to be proactive in preventing latex sensitivity among its staff and patients, recognition of the LPN's latex sensitivity prompted immediate attention to the initiative. The employee was given time off with pay until her unit could be cleaned to prevent exposure to latex powder. The employee also met with a latex allergy prevention team to discuss accommodations. The medical/surgical unit was made a powder-free glove unit. The employee was provided latex-free sterile gloves and vinyl gloves for non-sterile situations, as well as a latex-free stethoscope and tourniquets. To fully address the issue, the medical facility provided mandatory latex allergy education for all staff, implemented allergy assessment screening for all patients and new employees, as well as for employees exhibiting symptoms of latex sensitivity, and replaced other latex products, such as rubber bands and mouse pads, throughout the facility. This single request for an accommodation accelerated a broad initiative that took two years to fully implement, but benefitted all the staff and patients. Cost: $1,500-$1,800.

Other Accommodation Examples

  • Situation:A sewing machine operator experienced grand mal seizures and requested accommodation based on safety issues.

    Solution: The sewing machine was relocated so that, if the individual had a seizure, she would not fall onto the machine or other potentially harmful objects. In addition, a local epilepsy affiliate provided education to the staff on seizures and first aid. Cost: $0.

  • Situation:An individual who lacked range of motion in his wrist worked in a laboratory. One of his job tasks required that he manipulate a small box of "wafers" by rotating the box a one-quarter turn into a machine. The lack of wrist movement prevented him from performing this task.

    Solution: By placing a slant board on the table in front of the machine, the individual could place the wafer tray on the slant board at an angle and bump it in place effectively with his body. Cost: $40.

  • Situation:An employer was considering hiring an applicant with a hearing impairment for a material handling position. The employer had some safety concerns as well as communication concerns during the interview and training processes. JAN suggested a variety of options, including set paths of travel, vehicle requirement to stop at intersections, strobe lights, a bright colored vest or hat for the employee (provided this was acceptable to the employee), use of a personal vibrating pager, and a buddy system.

    Solution: The employer provided an interpreter for the interview process and parts of the training sessions, but discovered that the individual's hearing aids provided enough assistance for him to work safely. The employer also established set paths of travel, mirrors, traffic rules and strobe lights which improved the safety of all workers on the floor. Cost: $350 for the interpreter.

Cost Considerations
As businesses become more knowledgeable about the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many are able to make simple adjustments to the worksite with little or no advice from others. Recent JAN data show that 20% of accommodations cost nothing, and another 60% cost less than $1,000.

A requested accommodation that might appear too costly does not have to be accepted by the employer. The employer is free to explore other less expensive alternatives if they work just as well. It is also important to remember that accommodations or adjustments must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Follow-up Actions
Once the accommodation has been made, it must be maintained. For example, if the accommodation is providing an interpreter for general meetings or other types of work situations, make sure that an interpreter is scheduled as soon as the meeting is scheduled. If the accommodation involves the purchase of equipment, make sure the equipment is working properly and that it is serviced regularly. The maintenance may include staff sensitivity and attitudinal training, especially if the accommodation is made for a new hire who is the first person with a disability on staff. If the individual is promoted, transferred to another part of the company or the disability changes, accommodation needs may change, and should be re-assessed.

Resources

Office of Disability Employment Policy's
Job Accommodation Network
Phone: (800) 526-7234 (V/TTY)
http://janweb.icdi.wvu.edu/english/homeus.htm

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Phone: Technical Assistance:
(800)669-4000 (V) or (800) 669-6820 (TTY)
http://www.eeoc.gov

Regional Disability and Business
Technical Assistance Centers ( DBTACs)
To contact DBTAC in your area: (800) 949-4232 (V/TTY)
http://www.adata.org

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disabilitiy Employment Policy

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