[nfbmi-talk] Ten Things Every Employer Should Know About Job Accommodation

Mary Ann Robinson brightsmile1953 at comcast.net
Fri Feb 17 18:57:19 CST 2012

I read the following article in a disability newsletter and thought it was worth sharing.

Mary Ann Robinson

Rob McInnes - Author, Trainer and Consultant on disability and workforce diversity.
Ten Things Every Employer Should Know About Job Accommodation
Employers in North America were not given a great introduction to the concept of
"Job Accommodation". Prior to the passing of Employment Equity legislation in Canada
and the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States, most employers had
probably gone about their business pretty much oblivious to the term. However, those
legislative initiatives thrust "Job Accommodation" into the employers' spotlight
- as something conceptually new to them, something that was now a "duty" they had
to comply with, something rumored to be excessively expensive, and something that,
if not done and done well, would put them at the risk of prosecution. When they asked
what a reasonable limit might be on the cost of making an accommodation they were
told "Anything that doesn't cause you to lose your business."
That introduction did little to inspire employers to warm up to the notion of job
accommodation. It was the legislative equivalent of throwing employers and job accommodation
into the ring together - introducing them, and telling them to shake hands and come
out fighting. Sadly, the bells that would begin each round were job seekers or employees
with disabilities.
Wrapped in a cloak of "duty to accommodate" and synonymous with unwanted government
interference and legal risk/liability for their business, many employers despise
and fear the notion of job accommodation. This is compounded by the erroneous perception
that every employee with a disability requires an accommodation and the belief that
the cost of every accommodation is exorbitant. Obviously, the easiest way to avoid
job accommodation obligations (and their potential liability) is to avoid people
with disabilities.
This is the "stuff" of many workplace attitudes that are encountered by people with
disabilities as they seek to carve out their own careers and productive roles in
our workforces. The welcoming smiles of recruiters and hiring managers are belied
by the flustered paper shuffling, frenetic eye movements, and frequent watch-glancing
that too often accompany them.
I would like to take this opportunity to clear the air and re-introduce employers
to the notion of job accommodation. With the following ten points, I am attempting
to outline a much more accurate accounting of the nature, frequency, cost, and benefits
of effective job accommodations for people with disabilities.
Ten Things Every Employer Should Know About Job Accommodation
1. Accommodations are productivity enhancers.
Perspective is everything. The key to making effective accommodations is to understand
them for what they really are - tools and working conditions that enable employees
to give their best and to be their most productive on the job.
Most employees with disabilities do not require accommodations.
Surveys show that many employers shy away from recruiting or hiring any people with
disabilities because they fear the cost of possible accommodations. They assume that
every person with a disability, or at least most of them, will require an accommodation.
While numbers vary slightly, most studies indicate that the vast majority, somewhere
between 70 - 80%, of employees with disabilities (roughly 3 out of 4) require no
accommodation at all.
Even when accommodations are required, half of them cost nothing.
According to the Job Accommodation Network's 2009 report, Workplace Accommodation:
Low Cost. High Impact, when accommodations are needed, approximately 56% cost nothing.
This figure, combined with estimates for employees who require no accommodations
suggests that 9 out of 10 people with disabilities are employed with absolutely no
associated job accommodation costs.
When accommodations do cost money, they are typically a minimal expense.
Only one in ten employees with a disability needs an accommodation that is an expense
to their employer and, again according to the Job Accommodation Network's 2009 report,
Workplace Accommodation: Low Cost. High Impact, employers report a typical expense
of only $600.
People with disabilities who require job accommodation tools frequently come with
their own.
Particularly when it is an equipment need, many people with disabilities already
own what they need or can have it provided through other sources (community organizations
or government programs).
Accommodating an employee should be an ongoing process.
Attention to accommodation strategies should be an ongoing process. Circumstances
constantly change and accommodations need to keep in step with them. Changes in the
employee's environment, routines, job duties, and/or tools may require adjustments
to accommodations previously in place. Changes in the employee's abilities may require
different approaches or enhancements to existing accommodations. Because adaptive
technology is constantly being invented and improved upon, it is only prudent to
keep abreast of the latest developments.
Accommodations can have a positive impact on overall workplace productivity.
Job accommodations often approach and/or organize job tasks in new ways - frequently
introducing new tools and methods. These new approaches, when used by people without
disabilities who are performing similar jobs, can sometimes increase the overall
safety, and productivity in the workplace. In the Job Accommodation Network's 2009
report, Workplace Accommodation: Low Cost. High Impact, 57% of surveyed employers
reported that making an accommodation for an employee with a disability had improved
overall company productivity.
The best accommodations come from open and ongoing dialogue.
Bearing in mind that the purpose of accommodations is to enhance a given employee's
productivity, accommodation strategies need to be selected through open and productive
dialogue between the employee and the employer. Care must be taken to be certain
that the accommodation is the best "fit" with the employee's circumstance and preferences
while still enabling them to fulfill the responsibilities of their job. Creativity,
flexibility and honesty are the best ingredients for a selecting a successful accommodation.
Employees may be reluctant to bring up their accommodation needs.
Companies need to foster a workplace culture that affirms the uniqueness of each
employee and that welcomes suggestions that will sustain or enhance their productivity.
Anything less will cause employees to hide their disabilities and not request needed
accommodations. This will be true for new applicants, new employees, and existing
employees who begin to acquire disabilities (think "aging workforce"). In those circumstances,
companies will lose the productivity and spirit of employees who struggle to fulfill
their responsibilities while masking their needs. Conversely, the productivity of
each employee will be maximized by companies that are flexible, that openly value
difference, and that respectfully welcome requests for accommodations.
There are many sources of expertise for determining, selecting and/or procuring any
needed accommodations.
They may be private consultants or staff of non-profit organizations, but you should
be able to draw on the expertise of many folks in your local community who have proven
expertise in various job accommodations. In addition, the Job Accommodation Network
) has a wealth of information on its website and offers free nation-wide consultation
through online chat, email, and telephone. The DBTAC Network (
) has a regional network of ADA centers that provide an array of free accommodation-related
Job accommodations for employees with disabilities are simply exciting ways of reconfiguring
jobs, working environments and/or schedules in order to maximize the productive contribution
that any given employee can make to their employer's business. Smart companies are
already making similar adaptations for other employees - retuning their job descriptions
to match their employees' unique personality types, elder care needs, parental responsibilities,
etc. That kind of unique tuning is essentially what job accommodation for people
with disabilities is all about - giving them the tools and circumstances that they
need to thrive in their careers and to make their most valuable contribution to the
company's success.
~ Rob McInnes
© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, December, 2009 

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