Longitudinal Study of Cost and Cost-Benefits of Workplace Accommodation

Project Team

Project Director: Peter Blanck, JD, Ph.D., BBI
Project Team: M. Adya, BBI; DJ Hendricks, JAN; H. Schartz, LHPDC
Advisors: K. Mitchell, Ph.D., Unum Provident; S. Timmermann, Metlife
Project Partner: Burton Blatt Institute (BBI), Syracuse University

Summary / Outcome Goals

The primary objective of this project is to advance the paradigm and body of research on the direct and indirect costs and benefits of workplace accommodations in diverse work settings. Prior research on effectiveness and costs of accommodations has examined either "person," "accommodation/technology," or "environmental/organizational" variables at one point in time (and often in isolation from each other). Grounded in the ICF and social construction models, we will examine all three variables (personal, environmental, and accommodations), as they relate to each other, and over a long-term period, enabling assessment of their individual and combined impacts on the nature and effectiveness of workplace accommodations and their associated costs and benefits when changes in each take place.

Specifically, the project will: 1) conduct the same web-based survey twice over the course of five years with employees and employers; 2) augment the survey data by leveraging ongoing BBI/Work RERC case study research to examine employer policies, practices, and attitudes towards accommodations funded by the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL); 3) develop an unprecedented and new conceptual and evidence-based framework for understanding the cost-benefits of workplace accommodations; and 4) determine the overall cost, benefits, and utility of workplace accommodations over time.


Background

While employers often view workplace accommodations as a burdensome cost to an organization, current BBI-JAN research has refuted this myth, finding that the costs of accommodations are often low. In fact, investments in accommodations not only enhance the economic independence of people with disabilities, but also benefit employers through indirect economic benefits such as reduced turnover costs.

Even though prior research has demonstrated positive cost benefits of accommodations, these studies have largely evaluated the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of accommodations at one point in time, usually at the point of employment or return to work after disability. Such investigations ignore the reality that people, technology, and work environments change over time. Technology becomes outdated, an individualís abilities may change (e.g., decline in functional ability or secondary conditions), essential job functions may change (e.g., promotion to a new job), and environment/organization changes can occur (e.g., location of the job). Work RERC research has shown that as a result, workplace accommodation needs and the accommodations themselves, similarly change over time.

A more accurate picture of accommodations, costs and benefits would be based on tracking costs over time. Assessing the impact of accommodations over time allows for a thorough calibration of their value by accounting for their utility based on changes that may occur with a personís disability or with a personís job, and the possible needs for updating or renewing the accommodation (e.g., replacing outdated computer hardware or renewing a software license). In addition, by studying the issue longitudinally, we can account for long-term positive impact and the career enhancing value of accommodations over time for accommodated individuals as well as for the entire organization. This approach to costs and benefits is important as companies may be more likely to hire job applicants with disabilities as well as make workplace accommodations for existing employees if they understand the short- and long-term costs and benefits that result from workplace accommodations and how they add business value.


Current Work

Prior to launch of this study, a research consortium lead by BBI, and including the Work RERC, examined corporate policies and practices, including how workplace accommodations were provided. This case-study project was sponsored by ODEP. Study participants indicated that workplace accommodations generally had no- to low-cost. Benefits included greater productivity and working hours. However, participants also indicated that there were indirect costs (e.g., training, coworker effort) and benefits (e.g., reduced turnover, improved safety) associated with implementing some accommodations.

The current study is attempting to determine both direct and indirect costs and benefits of accommodations. This will help us to better assess the costs, benefits, and utility of workplace accommodations and understand what organizational policies, practices, and cultures lead to successful use of accommodations. For the current study, we want to gather information from both the employee and employer perspective. Therefore, project researchers surveyed both employees who have asked for an accommodation, as well as from people who have implemented accommodation for their employees.

The first round of the survey has been completed and data analysis has begun. Interviews with employees and their supervisors are currently taking place to gather more detailed information. The next round of the survey will be launched in the Fall of 2011.


Selected Publications / Presentations


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CATEA