Factors for Success of Workplace Accommodations

Jesse S. Zolna

Georgia Institute of Technology

ABSTRACT

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants. The goal of the ADA is to encourage hiring of qualified applicants and boost institutional and national productivity; work is also important to the individual with a disability because it facilitates participation in society. Employers who have successful experiences with people with disabilities look positively on hiring workers with disabilities. However, little is known about the factors contributing to successful experiences with employment for people with disabilities. The following literature review combines successful and unsuccessful experiences from practice and empirical reports to search for themes that lead to successful employment of people with disabilities.

KEYWORDS: Employment, Accommodations, Outcomes, Assisitve Technology.

Approximately 30 million working age adults (15- 64 yrs.) are living with a disability. 18.5 million have a work related disability that impedes finding employment, remaining employed, or limits the type of work that can be done [1]. Unemployed disabled persons may be an underutilized human resource to employers [3], lacking employment due to their disability, not their degree of ability [2]. Companies that have employed persons with disabilities suggest that the application of Universal Design and Assistive Technology will facilitate satisfying employment, job retention, and promotion for persons with disabilities [3]. The need persists for more comprehensive empirical evidence about the human factors of workplace technology used by people with disabilities. To investigate what is already known about problems with existing workplace products for disabled users with different capabilities, as well as to gain insight into those features that contribute to successful work experiences, a review of what is known about factors that make an accommodation or work environment effective or ineffective is necessary.

METHODS

Literature databases including Medline, EBSCO, PubMed, professional and academic websites, and relevant conference proceedings were used to search for relevant articles. Articles and books included in the literature review fell into two major categories, empirical research based on the experiences of persons with disabilities in the workplace, and practice reports based on the experience of professionals in the field. Literature was evaluated for its contribution and conclusions related to identifying factors related to workplace accommodations and the effectiveness of workplace technology used by people with disabilities.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The primary objective of workplace accommodation is to provide an environment that supports skills and functional abilities that are needed to achieve independence and integration. People with disabilities need various levels of environmental and social support. For many, access to information resources and minor modifications or assistance with tasks may be sufficient. However, others who rely upon assistive technology (AT) to compensate for impairments in mobility, hearing, sight, and speech in order to remain in the community may have more specific or complex work support needs. With such varying needs, past research has focused on specific workplace accommodations for specific population segments or industries [4; 5; 6; 8; 9; 13]. This review will extrapolate findings from specific domains to general circumstances.

Accommodations that are considered successful begin with a reasonable set of goals. Not all successful accommodation experiences result in the worker returning to work at full strength, and so we must be honest about limitations of the value of AT and Universal Design when we promote and implement them [7]. Job Accommodations Network (JAN) case studies show that including realistic expectations for outcomes will increase the perceived effectiveness of an accommodation [9]. Practitioners equate successful accommodation experiences with those that meet the expectations of the consumer and employer [8].

Similarly, a generally tolerant work environment is helpful in making and maintaining successful workplace accommodations. Practitioners recognize the importance of securing employers trust and support [8]. Adequate support is helpful in nurturing accommodations and creating successful experiences for workers with disabilities. Work environments vary in terms of responsiveness to needs; positive and supportive workplaces are good for the overall effectiveness of workplace accommodations [10]. People with disabilities recognize that the behaviors of immediate supervisors play a major role in career development, especially their understanding of the nature of disability and accommodations; when they do not, employment situations often fail [11].

Employee and employer commitment are both necessary to maintain effective accommodations. When the employer recognizes their stake in the accommodation process, proper care is taken to ensure that the accommodation is effective. A study of JAN case records found that accommodations later rated as 'very effective' or 'extremely effective' were likely to be scenarios in which both the employer and employee still remained committed to the success of the accommodation [9]. A survey used to examine current practices in accommodating persons who are hard of hearing or deaf found that both the employer and employee valued accommodations, and that recognizing each other's role in the partnership is essential to successful accommodation experiences [5]. A survey of consumers and employers discovered that an inadequate awareness by others for their need contributes to the person with a disability's dissatisfaction with an accommodation, and educating the employer about accommodation options is an important part of the employee's responsibilities [5]. An employment training program case study found that computers were valuable accommodations, but that "focusing solely on the individual and technology is not enough, balancing employers needs and employees personal preferences is necessary" [10].

Support needs vary greatly from individual to individual; individualized attention and provisions are an important factor in successful accommodations. Users who are intimately involved in the development and acquisition of their accommodations experience positive results in achieving independence and maintaining productivity. Personal comfort is important to the success and acceptance of accommodations [10]. It is vital to implement AT on a case-by-case basis and include the worker in the accommodation process. Even people with the same disability have different limitations, resulting in the need for individual solutions [9]. Assistive technology related service should be based on an analysis of each individual's specific needs and circumstances [8]. Focus groups composed of persons with disabilities who have had successful employment expereinces revealed that personalized consideration allowed the employee to work efficiently, keep doctor appointments, and stay healthy [11]. Especially for people with severe disabilities, an individualized approach is needed [4]. Furthermore, personal experience can be more useful than theoretical knowledge; practice shows that consumers' intimate knowledge of their circumstances should be involved in implementation of assistive technology [12].

Part of keeping the user involved and knowledgeable about their accommodations is the ability to track the changing needs of the consumer, and to maintain and continuously evaluate the usefulness of the existing accommodation in reference to those needs. Technology resources need to be systematically considered at all stages of the employment and overall rehabilitation process [8]. A decline in effectiveness must be addressed immediately to enable those who rely on AT to continue being productive. High maintenance equipment can result in abandonment [9]. People with disabilities who use computers in the workplace found that ongoing compatibility issues were a major problem in the success of computer based assistive technology, and that successful accommodations are achieved when the consumer and significant others in his context are informed and empowered to continually drive change [10]. Strategies need to be developed to continually address changes in skills, abilities, and technology [9].

According to employers and practitioners alike, an often-cited predictor for successful accommodations is the benefits-cost ratio. Implementing AT must be beneficial for the worker and the employer, and employers involved in accommodating persons with disabilities often cite this fact. As a result, it is a commonly acknowledged in practice reports that employer motivation for making efforts to accommodate workers with disabilities must include monetary or productivity gains [7; 12]. It is little know that JAN data indicates that accommodations yield $29 of benefits for every $1 of expense [14]. Langton and Ramseur note that "cost is often the first question" when employers make decisions about what they consider to be reasonable accommodations [8]. Scherich notes that employers recognize that "the provision of accommodations helps attract dependable workers, reduces turnover, often improves safety, increases productivity, and is beneficial for public relations efforts" [5]. A survey of JAN cases found that employers recognized that the ratio between the cost of the accommodation and benefits to the company are incentive for making and maintaining workplace accommodations [9].

[1] J. McNeil, Americans with disabilities: Household economics studies US Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration US Census Bureau, 1997.
[2] Bowe, F. Handicapping America: Barriers to disabled people. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.
[3] http://worktechsolutions.com/newsletter/2001s/wtsnews01s.pdf, captured 4/10/02.
[4] Inge, K. J., Srobel, W., Wehemman, P., Todd, J., and Targett, P. "Vocational outcomes for persons with severe physical disabilities: Design and implementation of workplace supports." NeuroRehabilitation, 15 (2000) 175 - 187.
[5] Scherich, D.L. "Job accommodations in the workplace for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing: Current practices and recommendations." Journal of Rehabilitation, April/May/June (1996) 27 -35.
[6] Schartz, K., Schartz, H., and Blank, P. "Employment of persons with disabilities in information technology jobs: Literature review for IT Works." Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 20 (2002) 637-657.
[7] Mueller, J.L. "Assitive Technology and Universal Design in the Workplace." Assistive Technology, 10 (1998) 37-43.
[8] Langton, A.J., and Ramseur, H. "Enhancing employment outcomes through job accommodation and assistive technology resources and services." Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 16 (2001) 27-37.
[9] Dowler, D. L., Hirsch, A. E., Kittle, R. D., and Hendricks, D. J. "Outcomes of reasonable accommodations in the workplace." Technology and Disability, 5 (1996) 345-354.
[10] de Jonge, D, Rodger, S, and Fitzgibbon, H. "Putting technology to work: Users' perspective on integrating assisitve technology into the workplace." Work: Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 16 (2001), 77-89.
[11] The Lewin Group, Inc., Berkeley Policy Associates, Cornell University. Research on Employment Supports for People with Disabilities: Summary of the Focus Group Findings. September, 2001.
[12] Schneider, M. "Achieving greater independence through assisitive technology, job accommodation and supported employment." Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 12 (1999) 159 - 164.
[13] Geyer, P. D., Schrodel, J. G. Conditions Influencing the availability of accommodations for workers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing." Journal of Rehabilitation, April/May/June (1999) 42 - 50 [14] Cantor, A. (1996). The costs and Benefits of Accomodating Employees with Disabilities. 2003.

Jesse Zolna, Phone: 404.894.0563
Center for Assisitive Technology and Environmental Access, 490 10th St, Atlanta, GA. 30332-0156.

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