Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - July/September 2005

Volume 3, Number 3


This e-newsletter from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Workplace Accommodations is an update on our research, project activities, and resources of interest. The Work RERC is a NIDRR-funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center that identifies, develops and promotes new assistive and universally designed technologies that maximize independence and participation of people with disabilities in the workplace. More information about the Work RERC can be found at our website,


For people who experience disability, the opportunity to work is often the key to successful participation in the community.  However, a significantly large number of people with disabilities who are able to live in the community cannot successfully seek and maintain employment , in part due to a lack of a supportive work environment.  In 1997, for example, 9.7 million working-age adults with a disability were unable to work.  An additional 7.2 million reported that they were able to work but were limited in the kind or amount of work they could do, and 11.3 million people had a condition that made it difficult to remain employed or to find a job. For these individuals, the explosion of new technologies that have enabled them to live at home, often independently, is not having the same effect on their ability to remain employed and realize the full meaning of participation in the community.

The Work RERC recently completed a user needs survey of 510 people with disabilities that examined the types of technology and accommodations needed to perform work and employment-related activities.  The most commonly reported disabling conditions that impact employment include: motor limitations (87% of respondents), communication function (49%), sense and perception functioning (49%), and mental functioning (26%).  Moreover, 66% of respondents indicated that they are currently working in the field they want to work in.  Perhaps the most surprising finding in this survey is that most workplace accommodations are, in fact, arranged and provided by the employee (44%), rather than the employer (28%) or vocational rehabilitation (20%) professional.  More results from this research will be published in the coming months.

For more information on this or other research studies, or to participate in other Work RERC projects, surveys and focus groups, please contact:

Dory Sabata, Project Investigator
404-894-0953 or 1-800-726-9119 (voice/TTY)


Recently, the Work RERC conducted a survey to determine the benefit prosthetic wrist units offer to individuals using prosthetic arms, particularly in the workplace.  Prosthetic wrists are components which may be included in a prosthetic arm, and which allow the hand to be positioned in numerous ways to increase the functional range of hand motion for the individual. A goal of this study was to develop findings that will help prosthetists determine which users might be appropriate candidates for prosthetic wrists and which prosthetic wrist functions would be most beneficial for the daily tasks that the user performs.

With the assistance of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc., a national prosthetics distributor, surveys were distributed through the mail to prosthetic arm users. The Work RERC received 98 survey responses via regular mail, telephone, or through the Internet. The surveys gathered general demographic data, work history, and specific information regarding the components of individuals' prostheses.  In addition, the survey asked individuals to evaluate whether or not the prosthetic wrist unit increased the ease with which they were able to complete various daily tasks, such as writing and driving. Results of the survey showed that:

Although this study provided some insight on how people with upper extremity amputations are using their prosthesis in the workplace, future studies in this area should focus on measuring additional two-handed tasks, and work-related tasks that are identified by the prosthesis users themselves.

For more information about the wrist study, please contact:

Karen Milchus


The Work RERC is getting ready for its State of the Science Conference on September 15-16th, 2005 in Atlanta.

The conference will provide a venue for researchers, practitioners, policy makers, product designers, employers, and employees with disabilities to share knowledge about the current state and future directions of workplace accommodations.

The conference will include tracks on Evidence Based Practice, AT to Universal Design, Universal Design and Information Technology, Safety in the Workplace, Aging Workers, Telework, and Service Delivery. Thirty-three presentations are scheduled, from experts representing NIDRR research and training projects (i.e., RERCs, RRTCs, DBTACs), vocational rehabilitation, national and state organizations, and industry. Sharon Rennert, a Senior Attorney Advisor with the EEOC will deliver a keynote presentation on “The Americans with Disabilities Act: Understanding the Legal and Policy Framework Behind Reasonable Accommodations.”

But the conference will be more than just a series of research presentations. Karen Milchus, Co-Director of the RERC explains, “this conference will give researchers, practitioners, and people with disabilities an opportunity to share information about the current state of workplace accommodations, but it will also provide a forum to discuss where we need to go next in terms of research, development of products or services, training, and public policy. In fact, as part of the conference, participants will be contributing to the development of an agenda for future research.”

Materials from the conference will be posted on the Work RERC website during the next few months. For more information about the conference, visit:


Functional Characteristics of Users in Tasks Associated with Grocery Retail Checkout: A Literature Review
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 49th Annual Meeting
September 30, 2005 (Friday) - 8:30-10:00am
Orlando, FL
Presenter: David Ringholz

Workplace Accommodations: Using Technology to Expand Recruitment and Improve Productivity
Soc. for Human Resources Management (SHRM) - Annual Southeast HR Conference
October 17, 2005 (Monday) - 4:30-5:30pm
Atlanta, GA
Presenter: Karen Milchus

Accommodating Workers With Disabilities: What is Reasonable?
World Workplace 2005 Conference & Expo / International Facility Management Assoc.
October 24, 2005 (Monday) - 8:15-9:15am
Philadelphia, PA
Presenters: Jon Sanford & Shelley Kaplan

Telework and the Virtual Workplace: The Ins and Outs of Technological Employment Accommodations
2005 Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) Fall Research Conference
November 3-5, 2005
Washington, DC
Poster Presenter: Lynzee Head


Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Conference: Empowering Employers to Build an Inclusive Workforce
San Francisco, CA
September 26-27, 2005


The Work RERC has an on-line, e-mail discussion group on workplace accommodations, policy issues regarding employees with disabilities, and accessible design, called . The discussion group serves as a forum to ask our staff questions about specific issues and share resources.  In addition, periodically we will moderate discussions on various topics related to workplace policy or accommodation services. To join the group, send a blank e-mail to with "subscribe workaccommodations" in the SUBJECT line.


Georgia Tech's CATEA releases a new version of the national public Internet site on assistive technology (AT) The site has been redesigned to make it more useable and accessible for everyone, including persons with low vision, blindness, poor motor control and cognitive impairments. This global explorer is a resource for nearly 20,000 AT products and a link to over 1,400 resources for AT and disability-related information. The searchable database is designed to help you target solutions, determine costs and link to vendors that sell AT products.

National Business and Disability Council
The NBDC is a national corporate resource for hiring, working with, and marketing to people with disabilities.

“Work At Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation” A fact sheet from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explaining ways that employers may use telework programs as a reasonable accommodation.

Cornell University Disability Statistics web site provides access comprehensive, up-to-date U.S. disability statistics via graphs and charts, tables, and written descriptions. Site registration is required if you need to use their technical assistances services, or you may search the site as a guest without registering.


This is a publication of the RERC on Workplace Accommodations, which is supported by Grant H133E020720 of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.

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