Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - September 2007

Volume 5, Number 2


CATEA has recently been awarded a grant to continue research and development as the national Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations (Work RERC) for another five years. The Work RERC will identify, develop and promote new assistive and universally designed technologies that maximize independence and participation of people with disabilities in the workplace.

Under the previous funding cycle, the Work RERC conducted research to learn more about the use and effectiveness of accommodations, reviewed the impact of policy on access to and utilization of accommodations, and began development of tools to assess employee needs for accommodations. Development projects included software to help people who are blind to use computer applications, a supine workstation for people with low back pain, accommodations for people in manufacturing settings, and a grocery checkstand that can be used by cashiers with or without disabilities.

The new grant will add research projects that examine the accommodations used by aging workers and the effect of accommodations on participation of people in the workplace. In collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute and the Job Accommodation Network, the project will also investigate the costs and benefits of accommodating workers over time. Georgia Tech students will contribute to the design of new workstations and human-computer interfaces. Other development projects will create new systems to provide job task prompts for people with developmental disabilities (a collaboration with researchers at the University of Colorado) and improved vocabulary systems for people who have communication disabilities. Finally, the project will provide training for practitioners, workers with disabilities, and students interested in design and engineering.

More information about the Work RERC can be found at our website, Funding for this five-year project (grant H133E070026) comes from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, part of the U.S. Department of Education.


Workplace RERC researchers have gathered data on alternative (reclined) computer workstations, focusing on accommodations for computer operators with chronic low back pain (LBP). Early product and literature reviews confirmed the high incidence of people with chronic LBP and revealed a number of products developed to accommodate alternative working postures for computer operators. However, researchers found almost no data to quantify the effect of these alternative postures on productivity or user comfort. The RERC study investigated the impact of significantly reclined or supine postures on typing performance and user comfort. This summer, the data collection phase of the study was completed, which included over 50 volunteers with or without LBP, who each participated in a three-hour test (some even participated twice!).

The collected data includes:

There is much information to analyze, so please stay tuned as we report our findings over the coming months. For further information about the Supine Computer Workstation study, contact Scott Haynes at or 1-800-726-9119 (voice/TTY).


The JWOD/JETS National Engineering Design Challenge is an opportunity for students in grades nine to twelve to apply their engineering skills to solve real workplace accommodation problems that affect many people with severe disabilities. Students are given real life problem scenarios and are challenged to apply engineering design and assistive technology to develop possible solutions. The design challenge is cross-curricular, and also provides students with an opportunity to learn more about disability and the engineering professions.

The Work RERC is excited to contribute to the 2007-2008 competition. In 2006, more than 80 teams from around the United States and territories registered for the competition and designed assistive technology devices to help people with disabilities advance in the workplace. This year, five teams will win a trip to Washington, DC to participate in the National Finals on February 15, 2008. Prizes of $1500 to $3000 will be awarded to the top three teams.

NISH is a national nonprofit agency whose mission is to create employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities by securing Federal contracts through the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Program for its network of community-based, nonprofit agencies. The Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) is a nonprofit education organization established in 1950 to inform and excite young people about careers in engineering.

To participate, teams must register online by October 26, 2007 at For more information, e-mail

The Work RERC is offering two more web casts this year on workplace accommodations:

Topic: Accommodating Food Service Workers
When: November 1, 2007, from 12:00pm to 1:30pm EST
Presenter: Sarah Endicott
This web cast will use case studies of individuals working in food service jobs to illustrate the work accommodation process. Beginning to intermediate level.

Topic: Alternative Workstations
When: December 13, 2007, from 12:00pm to 1:30pm EST
Presenters: Sarah Endicott and Scott Haynes
Many employees with disabilities need alternative workstations. This broadcast will cover some of these accommodation options, including height adjustable workstations, sit-stand workstations, and supine workstations. Intermediate level.

To register, contact Georgia Tech Professional Education at beginning in October. There is a $30 fee. CEUs (accepted by RESNA and others) and CRCC (1.5 hours) are available upon course completion.


2007 North Carolina Assistive Technology Expo
November 29-30, 2007
Raleigh, NC

Join Sarah Endicott for a presentation on Workplace Assessments on Friday, November 30th. This beginning/intermediate level presentation is aimed at people who would like to know more about the process of determining workplace accommodations.

International Conference on Aging, Disability and Independence (ICADI)
February 20 to 23, 2008
St Petersburg, FL

The ICADI conference will focus on approaches to support people as they age in maintaining independence in daily living at home, at work and in the community. This year, the Work RERC will be co-organizing a pre-conference session, "The 21st Century Community" with the RERC on Universal Design in the Built Environment. This session will investigate the State of the Science of Evidence-Based Practice in Universal Design. Jon Sanford, co-director of the Work RERC, is one of the coordinators of the pre-conference session, and he is Chair of the conference track on Work and Aging.

For more information on Work RERC staff presentations, go to the Events page on our web site:


NCD Seeks Congress’s Support of ADA Restoration Bills
The National Council on Disability, an organization that proposed the original Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, urged both houses of Congress to support ADA restoration bills (H.R. 3195 and S.1881). The bills, which were introduced on July 26, 2007, stem from a two-year NCD study that released two reports: The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Assessing the Progress Toward Achieving the Goals of the ADA ( and Implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Challenges, Best Practices, and New Opportunities for Success ( The findings show that, with particular regard to disability employment and the ADA: “the majority of the Supreme Court's rulings involving the ADA depart substantially from the core principles and objectives of the ADA, resulting in unfair outcomes that sanction, rather than remedy, even the most egregious employment discrimination against people with disabilities”.

2007 Progress Report – New Freedom Initiative
The 2007 Progress Report on President Bush’s New Freedom Initiative (NFI) includes several policy updates. One of the most notable highlights is a joint effort through DHHS called “Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration grants” – a key NFI project – which started in January 2007. The purpose of this program is to lend long-term support for Medicaid recipients through state grants, which are intended to help its consumers transition from residing in institutions to living in the community. This program’s goal in societal integration is made possible by removing barriers to benefits that affect program recipients; instead of being place-based, program support is now more people-based in its approach. $1.75 billion with be distributed over a five-year period through competitive grants for States’ long-term support systems. The President advocates this program, stating “Money Follows the Person promotes a strategic approach to building a person-centered, needs-based system that supports quality of care and quality of life in both home and community-based settings and institutions. Giving people with disabilities the ability to choose where they live helps create a strong foundation to help achieve greater freedoms at work, at school, and throughout the community.”

America COMPETES Act Signed
On August 9, 2007, the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272) was signed by President George W. Bush and allotted $1.36 billion over the next 10 years toward the American Competitiveness Initiative. This Act, in which COMPETES stands for “Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science”, is a collaboration with the National Science Foundation as well as several federal departments (U.S. Departments of Energy, Commerce, Education). Its goal is to “strengthen education and research in the United States related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics”. In addition to supporting education programs that promote academic excellence in these areas, research projects as well as innovation and entrepreneurship in these fields are encouraged by this Act.

ODEP Learning Laboratory Addresses Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) hosted a Learning Laboratory at the 2007 Workforce Innovations Conference, which was held on July 18, 2007. The topic, “Mental Health Issues in the Workplace: Employment and Retention Strategies You Can Use”, focused on increasing the employment rate of working-age individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Subjects discussed included dispelling myths about mental health and its impact in the workplace, utilizing local workforce systems to aid in the employment and retention of those with mental health or substance abuse histories, and providing accommodations to employees with these particular disabilities or related histories. The conference, which is sponsored annually by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), has a target audience of state and local workforce development staff and human resource management organizations.

Homeland Security Report and Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties released their Annual Report to Congress FY2005-2006 report in May 2007, which includes a section on activities focused on integrating the needs of people with disabilities in emergency preparedness planning.

FEMA Introduces New Disability Coordinator
Cindy Lou Daniel has been hired as the new Disability Coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The core duties include properly addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities, in all phases of emergency management processes. Ms. Daniel is a former consultant with 19 years experience in disability and emergency preparedness issues.

FY 2008 Budget Funds Accommodations, Care for Disabled Veterans (pg. 43)
A White House publication detailing provisions in the FY 2008 Budget shows that financial support has been included for the accommodation of U.S. veterans with disabilities. An estimated $1.3 billion will be allotted to provide prosthetic and sensory aids to veterans “from all combat eras,” while $3 billion will be used for their mental health care.

ODEP Grants $1.9 Million Promoting Employment for Youth with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has awarded a $1.85 million grant to start a National Technical Assistance Center on Transition and Employment for Youth with Disabilities. The project grant was provided by ODEP to the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development, which is based in Washington, D.C.


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.


Visit the AT Wiki
Learn more about specific workplace accommodations on the AT Wiki and share your own tips or feedback about accommodations. The numerous articles include information about workstations, computer access, funding of AT, etc.

Review our new Grocery Checkstand Design Guidelines (PDF)
Learn how grocery checkstands can be made more accessible for both employees and customers.

Download Work RERC Papers from Recent Conference Presentations
Staff presentations from the RESNA and Technology and Persons with Disabilities (CSUN) conferences have been posted to our web site.


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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