12 Tips on Reasonable Accommodation
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and more recently the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), protects the rights of people with many types of physical and psychological disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of society. When working with a disability, obvious or hidden, predictable or unpredictable, you have the right to ask your employer for “reasonable accommodation” to allow you to obtain or retain employment. Unless the requested accommodation puts “undo hardship” (usually measured in expense) on the employer, the employer must, by law, accommodate your disability and make your work environment work for you. Examples of reasonable accommodation may include but are not limited to:
1. Adjustable Work Spaces
One of the most important accommodations to consider is adjustable, ergonomic work surfaces that allow you to set the height, angle, or pitch of desktops and keyboard trays, and allow you to move freely in your work space
- There are a variety of options from cubical walls that allow the user to permanently set the desktop height, in 1 inch increments like many bookshelves, to mechanically operated desktops that can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button allowing the user to shift positions multiple times a day.
- Consider adding an adjustable keyboard tray to your desk which can be set to tip up or down to let your hands rest comfortably and avoid strain on the wrists. The keyboard can even be lowered out of the way under the desk when you do not need it.
- Chairs on wheels often allow those with limited mobility to move around their workspace more easily and preserve energy for other tasks.
- If your feet do not rest on the floor comfortably, ask for a foot rest.
- If you use a wheelchair or scooter, request an “open” office with space under desks, and more room in a cubicle or hallway to accommodate your mobility device.
- Ergonomic Keyboards: Ergonomic keyboards are curved to fit the natural position of the body. If you get tingling in your hands or fingers, or pain in your neck and shoulders when working at a computer all day, try an ergonomic keyboard. It may take a little getting used to, but once you do, you will likely find the strain and pain goes away.
- High Contrast Keyboards: If you have trouble distinguishing the letters on your keyboard, you can ask for one with larger or higher contrast letters. Sometimes, a high contrast or large print keyboard cover is an economical solution. You can also set your computer screen defaults to a more readable “style” — selecting higher contrast colors, more readable fonts, and a larger size type.
3. When a Mouse is NOT a Mouse
If using a computer mouse is a pain, literally, consider switching to something that is easier for you to use.
- A trackball mouse uses light finger motions to move the cursor around the screen, which lessens strain on wrist and arm muscles.
- Graphic artists often use a digital graphics tablet that allows them to use a stylus shaped like a pen to draw and move things around the screen.
- A headmouse or eyemouse allows people with more severe disabilities to move a cursor and use a computer.
4. Voice Recognition/Activated Solutions
- Voice recognition software has come a long way in recent years. It is now possible for someone with little or no hand control to use a headphone to speak to their computer to compose documents, access the Internet, and more. (Dragon Naturally Speaking® is my favorite.)
- Voice activation is now incorporated into many everyday devices, such as telephones, alarm clocks, and other control devices.
5. Screen Readers
- Screen reader software converts written text to the spoken word or to Braille output. Once added to your computer, all text and picture captions become audible or printable in Braille format. Check with your local Council on the Blind for more options when low or no vision makes it difficult to work.
6. Arm/Wrist Support
- Sitting at a keyboard most of the day causes the arms to hang and strains the shoulders and neck. If you find this happening to you, consider arm/wrist support added to your desk or chair that gently holds and moves with your lower arm while you are working. If your wrists hurt, there are a number of wrist support devices, wrist braces, and ergonomic gloves that can help alleviate the strain.
7. Lateral File Cabinets
- If you use a wheelchair or scooter, vertical file cabinets can leave some files out of reach. Ask for a lateral file instead, which will keep all your files at a comfortable sitting level height. Lateral files, only two drawers high, also provide the added benefit of extra “desktop” space.
8. Specialized Telephone Equipment
If you have trouble using a telephone either due to low vision, hearing loss, or an inability to pick up the receiver, there are a number of specialized phones on the market.
- Amplified phones will help you hear speech more clearly.
- Picture phones allow you to program in a select number of numbers and associate them with a picture. This technology is good for people with low vision or who have difficulty remembering names.
- Some phones, including your cell phone, allow you to use voice recognition to call a number, usually using the name entered into a directory.
- If you have trouble lifting, a headset, speaker phone, or headset is a good choice.
- If you cannot read a telephone directory, you may qualify for free directory assistance, and an operator will look up and dial any number for you. (Ask your phone company about this service.)
9. Magnifying the Situation
When the print is just too small for you to read, there are a number of ways to magnify things.
- Your computer can be set to a different default resolution, type, or font size that will allow you to see what is on the screen better.
- Most computers and Websites allow you to enlarge the screen with just the click of a button.
- When built-in enlargement features are not enough magnification, inexpensive full screen magnifiers attach to the front of your computer screen and enlarge everything on it.
- If you need to enlarge more than just the computer screen, lighted magnifying glasses, like architects and drafters use, may be attached to your desk to magnify anything under the moveable lens.
10. Environmental controls
People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are often more sensitive to light, temperature, air quality, and noise levels than the average person.
If you need more or less light in your work space, ask for it. Perhaps overhead lights cause too much glare that task lighting will eliminate. Perhaps you need to be closer to windows so the warm outside light balances out the cooler indoor light.
If it is too hot, too cold, or too drafty in your work space, ask what can be done to create a better working environment for you (and perhaps everyone). A simple change of where you sit may be all that need be done. If not, the addition of supplemental heaters or fans may help.
- Clean Air
If simply going to work makes you sneeze, itch, your eyes burn, or gives you a headache, you may be sensitive to something in the air – anything from dust to mold or the fumes of copiers, printers, cleaning products, and environmental pollutants. If this is your situation, ask your employer about using “green” cleaning products, air filters on heating/cooling vents, or about the addition of an air cleaner or purifier, if not on the whole system at least in your work space.
- Quiet Space
When you have a chronic illness, sometimes it is hard for you to concentrate. If you work in a cubicle situation see if you can have an office with walls, or at least move to a quieter part of the office. If this is not possible, see if headphones that filter noise or a white noise machine might make a difference for you.
11. Personal Needs
All of these may be considered reasonable accommodation – if it allows someone with a disability to continue working.
- Schedule Changes
The effects of your illness or medications you take might make it necessary for you to come in to work earlier or later or reduce your hours and work part-time instead of full-time.
- Moving Around
Perhaps you need to get up and move around frequently, even taking a walk outside the building several times a day.
If your condition or medication makes your really tired and you need to nap for awhile in the afternoon, ask for your employer to provide a place for you to do that.
- Sitting Down
If your job requires a lot of standing and you are pregnant or your legs are weak, ask for a tall stool to sit on.
If your job is too physical for you to continue doing, ask for reassignment to a less demanding position.
12. Ask for an Ergonomic Assessment
Ask your employer for an ergonomic assessment of your workspace. If they are not in a position to provide it, contact your state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (usually part of health and social services) which provides this service to employers wishing to accommodate someone with a disability. (If you haven’t already, you may have to work with your doctor to establish proof of disability first) and may even help fund necessary accommodations for you to continue working.
The scope of accommodations that may be requested are varied.
In general, if you have a condition that limits your ability to care for yourself, perform manual tasks, see, hear, eat, sleep, walk, stand, lift, bend, speak, breathe, learn, read, concentrate, think, communicate, or you have some bodily function issue that interferes with normal work activities and something would make your life easier at work, your employer is obligated to try to accommodate you. JUST REMEMBER: When asking your employer for accommodation, working with them for a mutually beneficial solution is better than demanding your rights under the law.
For more information on reasonable accommodations, ergonomic assessments and solutions, and funding accommodations contact your state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (usually part of health and social services). You may also want to consult a local support group for your specific chronic illness or disability or an in your state.
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