Not everyone who returns to the workforce after a work-disrupting disability is able to perform the same job in the same way they did before. Fortunately, a wide range of accommodations are available to help keep people in the workforce, and the good news is that companies are more than happy to provide them — as long as they understand the need for and requirements of such accommodations.
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This article walks through what it means to have accommodations made. What is reasonable to ask, and what is not? How can you facilitate that process with your new or existing employer?
Working With an Employer
Many organizations make efforts to accommodate their employees and uphold cultures of disability inclusion. They recognize that doing so allows them to capitalize on the unique skills and talents that people with disabilities offer and promote a strong, diverse workforce that leads to higher customer satisfaction. Happier customers lead to more sales and more positive word-of-mouth promotion of the brand.
Simply put, hiring people with disabilities is a win for everyone involved and brings value to teams in all industries.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." For an accommodation to be considered "reasonable," it must not cause "undue hardship" to the organization, financial or otherwise.
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Examples of common reasonable accommodations include modified work schedules or work-from-home arrangements, modified or new equipment (desks, chairs, keyboards, etc.), accessible software, additional training materials, interpretation services, or reassignment to a new position that is better suited to an individual's talents and strengths. Employers also must ensure non-work-related office areas like cafeterias and lounges are accessible.
Accommodations Can Be Affordable
The law requires these accommodations be made, but some companies are resistant to change. They may hesitate out of concern over the costs of making these adjustments. Generally, employers find that these accommodations are often very affordable — sometimes free and often less than $500.
Someone who uses a wheelchair may need a lower desk and additional space between cubicles, in hallways, and in break rooms. Those suffering from back issues benefit from ergonomic chairs. Braille keyboards, vertical mice, touchpads, and speech recognition programs are all accommodations that can easily be afforded by employers to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for employees with disabilities.
Furthermore, businesses with fewer than 30 employees or that make a certain level of revenue can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 per year, which can alleviate some of the cost burden.
Coordinating Accommodations With Human Resources
If you require an accommodation and are having difficulty receiving it, be sure to work closely with your human resources department. It may be important to clarify so that the employer fully understands what you need.
You may want to make your request in writing. Generally, your employer should be aware that you have a legal right to make this request under the ADA, but you can share this information if your employer is unfamiliar with this requirement.
It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against you because of your disability. If you still run into obstacles with an accommodation, you may want to consult an attorney or legal advocate for counsel on next steps.
No one wants to feel like they are placing a burden on their employer, so it can be difficult to have the types of conversations necessary to receive the accommodations you need. The way you communicate to your supervisor is important to maintain good relations and facilitate a positive outcome for all parties involved.
For example, instead of saying, "I can't do my old job anymore," you can say something like, "I'm excited to be coming back to work, and I will need to request an accommodation in order to perform at my best." Be open and honest about your needs. Provide as much detail as possible.
If you are returning to work while receiving Social Security disability benefits, you may want to look into Social Security's Ticket to Work program, which allows you to keep your benefits for a period of time while you test out the waters in the workforce. There are many organizations out there that can assist you with both the Ticket to Work program and other matters related to your return to work, including requesting accommodations and facilitating conversations with your employer.
Paula Morgan is senior claims representative at Allsup Employment Services.