If your disability is readily apparent, it is quite possible that you discussed these issues with your new employer back when you were interviewed. If your disability cannot be easily discerned, and if you did not disclose it prior to being hired, you may need to approach your employer with the issue now.
Regardless of whether you have discussed this issue with your employer, hopefully you have given some thought to how you will be able to perform the essential functions of your job. The best resource for this is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is a product of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Job accommodations are usually not expensive.
- Job accommodations may be as simple as a rearrangement of equipment.
- Job accommodations can reduce workers' compensation and other insurance costs.
- Job accommodations can increase the pool of qualified employees.
- Job accommodations can create opportunities for persons with functional limitations.
When you call, you will be referred to one of the several talented staff members who specialize in an area related to your disability. When you share the information about the extent of your disability, the nature of the work, and so on, you will be given suggestions about possible accommodations to help you perform your job. They will provide the same service to your employer; however, it is probably to your advantage to make the first contact with JAN and then approach your employer with that information.
Real Life Sample Accommodations
The Job Accommodation Network has helped thousands of people with disabilities as they seek to find the appropriate accommodations for their work settings. The accommodations can range from simple changes in the work schedule to modifications of the environment. Following are some sample accommodations suggested by the JAN staff.
Altering the Job Duties or Work Schedule
Sometimes the most appropriate accommodation is an alteration of the job duties or the work schedule. JAN provides these examples:
Situation: A data entry clerk had agoraphobia and had difficulty traveling during peak hours of traffic.
Solution: The employee's working hours were changed from 8:30 a.m. 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. 6:00 p.m. Cost of accommodation: $0.
Situation: A highly skilled electronics technician who has AIDS was taking a large amount of annual and sick leave.
Solution: The employer provided a flexible work schedule and redistributed portions of the workload. The company also instituted AIDS awareness training for employees. Cost of accommodation: $0.
Situation: As a result of diabetes, a productive employee in a retail business was experiencing fatigue and needed time during the day to administer medication. She was having difficulty performing her sales duties for a sustained period of time.
Solution: The employee's schedule was altered to allow for a longer meal break and periods during the day to administer medication. Cost of accommodation: $0.
Other times the company may need to modify the facility to accommodate your disability. Here's an example of this type of modification provided by JAN:
Situation: A computer programmer in a manufacturing company has cerebral palsy, which affects her fine motor control. The employee uses a wheelchair, and as a result could not access certain areas of the work site.
Solution: A bathroom stall was enlarged and safety rails installed. Her desk was raised several inches to enable the wheelchair to fit underneath, and computer space was made available on the first floor of the building. A ramp and automatic doors were installed, and a personal parking place close to the elevator was designated. Building owners provided materials and absorbed costs for building remodeling. Cost to owner of the building: approximately $5,000. Cost to the employer: $0.
Purchasing Adaptive Equipment
There are times when modifying the work space or altering the job duties will not be sufficient. In many of these cases, however, purchasing adaptive equipment or software can be an appropriate accommodation. Here are some examples of these types of accommodations provided by JAN:
Situation: A file clerk with no hearing needs to have effective communication in a training seminar held for all new employees.
Solution: The employer hired a sign language interpreter for the employee's training, which lasted two days. Cost of accommodation: $500.
Situation: An electromechanical assembly worker acquired a cumulative wrist hand trauma disorder that affected handling and fingering. This decreased his ability to perform the twisting motion needed to use a screwdriver.
Solution: A rechargeable electric screwdriver was purchased to reduce repetitious wrist twisting. Electric screwdrivers were subsequently purchased for all employees as a preventative measure. Cost of accommodation: $65 per employee.
Developing Special Equipment
Sometimes there is no product that can accommodate your disability. In these cases, put your head together with your employer, and with JAN, to think whether there are other ways to accommodate your disability. Here is an example of these types of accommodations developed with the help of JAN:
Situation: An elementary school teacher with hearing loss was having great difficulty hearing students due to the background noise of screeching tables and chairs on the tiled classroom floor.
Solution: The school system could not purchase carpeting for the classroom immediately, so the teacher was permitted to cut holes in tennis balls and place them on the legs of the tables and chairs. Although the tennis balls were not intended for this purpose, they eliminated the background noise of the screeching tables and chairs. Fortunately, the teacher had tennis playing friends who were willing to donate their used tennis balls. As a result, the cost of the accommodation was $0.
Modifying a Product
Even the combined creativity of you, your employer, and the people at JAN isn't guaranteed to produce a great solution like the preceding one every time. Sometimes you will need to contact an appropriate professional to modify a product to meet your needs. The folks at JAN can help you identify which type of professional may be able to help you. The following are two success stories:
Situation: A catalog salesperson with a spinal cord injury had difficulty using the catalog due to finger dexterity limitations.
Solution: The employer purchased a motorized catalog rack. When it was modified with a single switch control, the employee could turn the rack to access the catalog using a mouth stick. An angled computer keyboard stand for better accessibility was also provided. Cost of accommodation: $1,500.
Situation: A custodian with decreased vision was having difficulty seeing the carpeted area he was vacuuming.
Solution: A fluorescent lighting system was mounted on his industrial vacuum cleaner. Cost of accommodation: $240.
Designing an Entirely New Product
Sometimes it's not that easy. Sometimes you may need to call on a professional to design a product that can meet your needs. The JAN Web site lists the following examples of new products that have been designed, as reported by the Rehabilitation Engineering Tech Brief published by the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas, Inc.:
Situation: A bicycle repairman was having difficulty bending down to work on bicycles as a result of a back injury.
Solution: The technicians at the Mobile Shop of the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation designed and made an adjustable height bicycle rack that could raise and lower the bicycle to a comfortable working height. Seventy staff hours were required for design, fabrication, and installation. Material and part costs for the modification totaled approximately $450.
Situation: A library clerk with a physical disability walked with crutches. She had limitations in shelving books that required climbing and reaching. Balance was also a problem for her.
Solution: A book service cart with fold up steps and handrails, with a place for her to stow her crutches, was designed and fabricated. Cost not identified.