Worker in a wheelchair with her service dog

Ways to Accommodate Employees with Disabilities

Whether you currently have employees with disabilities or intend to hire someone who has an impairment, you may not know the best ways to accommodate them. While some individuals won’t need any modification to your current policies or facilities, others may need adjustments to do their jobs as effectively as possible.

The Equality Act 2010 defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that has substantial or long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Some examples of disabilities include vision impairment, deafness, mental health conditions, intellectual disorders and physical impairment. These impairments may or may not be obvious to others, but can have a significant impact on the lives of those affected – especially when it comes to work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is modification to the application or hiring process, job, or work environment that allows individuals with disabilities to have equal opportunities in the workplace. Reasonable accommodations help these employees perform jobs as successfully as employees without disabilities.

Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Job restructuring: To accommodate an employee with a disability, you may consider changing when or how an essential job function is performed. If changing aspects of that duty doesn’t seem feasible, you could think about reassigning certain responsibilities to another employee. An example might be if you have two employees who enter data into the computer and occasionally need to make phone calls. If one of those employees has a speech impairment and has expressed discomfort speaking on the phone, you could discuss having the other employee make the phone calls, while the employee with the disability enters extra data into the computer.
  • Flexible work schedule: Employees with disabilities may need a more flexible schedule due to certain appointments or medication plans. Some employees may even have trouble getting to the office. An alternate schedule or work-from-home option could be beneficial, provided your company and industry allow for it. If your employee has a flexible work arrangement, be sure to stay connected with them about their schedule needs.
  • Modified equipment and materials: Updating equipment and materials in your workplace can make a world of difference for employees with disabilities. It may be something as simple as adjusting desk height to accommodate an employee using a wheelchair or providing materials in alternate formats, such as braille, large print or audio recording for an employee who has a vision impairment. Other times, you may need to invest extra effort and money into updates, like adding ramps to entrances or replacing door knobs with accessible door handles.
  • Policy enhancements: While you probably have policies in place for a reason, you may want to take a look at how those policies affect your employees with disabilities. For instance, you might have a no-dog policy at your office. But allowing employees to bring their service animals in could empower them to feel more comfortable and improve in their roles at your company. Other examples may be letting an employee with diabetes eat food at their workstation or allowing additional breaks for an employee who cannot sit for long periods of time.

The best thing you can do is talk to your employees. While there are rules that limit the questions you can ask about a person’s disability, there’s no harm in having a discussion with your employee to find out if their needs are being met in the workplace – just as you would when having a one-on-one with any employee. You might ask if there are any adjustments or resources that would make it easier for them to carry out their duties, or find out if they have suggestions to make the office more inclusive.

A great resource for employees with disabilities and their employers is Michigan Rehabilitation Services. They provide support including talent development, connections to state and community partner assets and services, reasonable accommodation services, risk management/employee retention and ADA consultation.

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Photo credit: lisegagne

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