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> Workforce New York - Disability Accomodations

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Julia Mattick, Executive Director
401 E. State Street/E. MLK Jr. Street
Ithaca, NY  14850
(607) 274-7526
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Jackie Mouillesseaux, Interim Director
Center Ithaca, Suite 241
Ithaca, NY 14850
607) 272-7570 ext. 129
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Many Employers are Accommodating Workers with Disabilities

As our colleagues at the Job Accommodation Network like to say, “Accommodations come in units of one.” Each accommodation must be based on these variables: the individual who needs the accommodation; the functional limitations that are presented by the individual’s disability; the essential functions of the job in question; and the nature, size and resources of the employer.

As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated in the Interpretive Guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “No specific accommodation is guaranteed for all individuals with a particular disability. Rather, an accommodation must be tailored to match the needs of the disabled individual with the needs of the job’s essential functions.”

Employers, however, can build upon the successful accommodations that other employers are making Here are ten categories of disabling conditions that are being accommodated in the workplace and descriptions of the types of accommodations individuals with these disabilities are receiving:

1. Back disorders. Back disorders often reach the legal definition of disability under the ADA. Many businesses are responding to the accommodation needs of workers with painful back conditions. In larger companies, solutions include reassignments to other jobs; job restructuring (so that the individual must no longer bend, stoop or lift heavy objects); work station redesign; and/or the purchase of ergonomic furniture.

Here are two specific examples:

  • The back problem of a well-drilling rig operator was aggravated by the constant vibration of the standard seat in the rig. A scientifically designed mechanical seat was installed in the rig. The seat allows the operator to make necessary adjustments of position, absorbing most of the vibration. The seat, which cost $1,000, is used by all of the company’s rig operators to prevent additional trauma to their backs.
  • A clerk with a low back strain/sprain had limitations lifting, bending and squatting. The job requires mail sorting and filing incoming documents in a large, numerical system. The employer put both the clerk and the documents on wheels. The worker was given a rolling file stool and a rolling cart for the documents, costing the company $44.

2. Repetitive stress injuries (RSI) (including cumulative trauma, repetitive motion illness or disorders), including carpal tunnel syndrome. RSI’s compose three-fifths of all occupational illnesses. They are a major reason why workers’ compensation costs are skyrocketing.

This disorder, which effects the upper body and back, occurs in situations in which employees are required to repeat a particular movement, using the same muscle groups over and over again. Consider the data entry clerk. This individual’s hands make 12,000 to 14,000 strokes per hour. In a normal shift, that’s 84,000 strokes; 420,000 strokes per week; 1,680,000 per month. By the end of the year, such a worker can experience considerable pain.

Some companies have recognized the importance of dealing with the problem by adapting an ergonomics strategy: redesigning work spaces to fit the job to the person, rather than the person to the job, and training workers to use the neutral body position in every task. (“Neutral” means working with the body in a natural position without stress. Arms in neutral swing naturally at the side. Wrists follow the plane of the arm without being flexed or bent. The neutral spine maintains its natural curve with shoulders relaxed.) Wellness programs that emphasize moderate exercise and a balanced diet are another important element in reducing repetitive stress injuries. Examples of accommodating this disabling conditioning:

  • Due to carpal tunnel syndrome, a retail store clerk had difficulty using a price gun over a long period of time. The clerk was instructed to label no more than 30 products at a time, and undertake another task for at least 10 minutes before using the price gun again. There was no cost to the store.
  • A seamstress could not use ordinary scissors due to the pain it caused her wrists. Her company purchased her a pair of spring-loaded ergonomically designed scissors for $18.

3. Mobility impairments. By far, individuals who use wheelchairs have benefited the most from the implementation of the ADA. Buildings and modes of transportation are much more accessible to wheelchair users than they were when the law went into effect in 1992. Rearrangement of furniture, ramps, designated parking spaces, electronically-activated sliding doors, widened doorways, lowered toilets with grab bars are among the most common accommodations provided by businesses to this disability population.


  • A company wanted to hire an applicant who could not access vertical filing cabinets from her wheelchair, The employer moved the files into a lateral file, at a cost of $450, and hired her as an administrative assistant.
  • A wheelchair user could not use a desk because it was too low and his knees would not go under it. The desk was raised with wood blocks, allowing a proper amount of space for the wheelchair to fit under it. No cost to the employer.

4. Visual impairments. There are an array of accommodations available to meet the workplace needs of individuals who are blind or have low vision. They range from sophisticated (and fairly expensive) computer speech terminals and reading machines to simpler assistive technology, such as optical magnifiers, light sensitive money identifiers, portable braille computer terminals, talking calculators, signature guides, probes which indicate “on/off” status of lights, tactile measuring devices and cassette recorders.


  • A blind receptionist could not see the lights on her telephone which indicated whether the telephone lines were ringing, on hold, or in use at her company. The employer bought her a light probe (cost: $45), a pen-like product that detects a lighted button.
  • A senior manager in one of the largest import businesses in the United States, with 20 years of experience and a staff of 15, developed retinitis pigmentosa, a congenital, progressive disintegration. The company purchased the following equipment for him: Kurzweil reading machine ($10,000); Alva Braille display ($14,500); Accent voice synthesizer ($1,000); Screen Reader/2 software ($725). Total accommodations cost: $26,225.

5. Hearing impairments. When people think of accommodations for deaf employees, they invariably envision having to hire a sign language interpreter. This is rarely the case. More commonly, a company will hire an interpreter for several hours at a time, in order for deaf employees to take part in trainings, large meetings or conferences. A more typical accommodation is a TTY or TDD, which costs between $200 and $300, and allows someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to access the telephone. Other low tech devices have helped persons with hearing impairments do their work effectively. Perhaps the most common accommodation a deaf worker requires is a training for co-workers and supervisors to determine how they will communicate with the new employee.


  • A deaf medical technician could not hear the buzz of a timer, which was necessary for conducting specific laboratory tests. An indicator light ($26.95) was attached to the timer.
  • A large department store hired a new worker who was born deaf and had little speech. One week prior to starting his job, he had a one-on-one orientation session with each of his new co-workers. One of the employees was assigned to him as support if communication problems should occur.

6. Psychiatric disabilities. Accommodations for persons with psychiatric disabilities include:

Schedule modifications—allowing more frequent breaks; allowing workers to allocate their break time according to their own needs, rather than a pre-determined schedule; allowing workers to shift schedules earlier or later; allowing employees to take a prolonged lunch break to attend a support group meeting; allowing workers to use paid or unpaid leave for appointments related to their disabilities; allowing an employee to work part-time temporarily.

Job modifications—Arranging for job sharing; re-assigning tasks among workers; reassignment to a vacant position.

Modification to the physical environment—providing an enclosed office; providing partitions, room dividers, or otherwise enhancing soundproofing and visual barriers between work spaces; offering a reserved parking space (to workers with phobias or anxiety disorders); blocking noise (example: by reducing the pitch or volume or telephone rings); increasing the spatial field to allow a larger “personal space;” positioning the worker as far away as possible from noisy machinery.

Changes in policy—extending additional paid or unpaid leave during a hospitalization or other absence; allowing additional time for workers to reach performance milestones; extending the probationary period; allowing an employee to make calls during the day to personal or professional supports; providing a private space in which to make such phone calls; providing a private space for employees to rest, cry, or talk with supportive coworkers; allowing an employee to work at home; allowing workers to consume fluids throughout the work day (for example, if needed due to medication side effects).

Provision of human assistance—allowing a job coach to come to the work site; participating in meetings with the worker and his/her job coach or other employment service provider; paying for part or all of the net costs of a job coach.

Provision of assistive technology—providing a portable computer to enable an employee to work at home or at unusual hours; providing software that allows the worker to structure time and receive prompts throughout the work day.

Supervisory techniques—offering additional training or instruction on new procedures or information; offering information and training in the worker’s preferred mode (orally, visually, written or experiential); ensuring the supervisor is available throughout the day; reassignment to another supervisor.

Proactive steps that may make the overall work environment more accommodating—offering specialized training to help employees advance and achieve promotions; creating and advertising permanent, part-time positions; modifying a job description to suit an employee1s unique talents and limitations; specifically stating that employees may use sick leave for physical or mental reasons; training supervisors to temper negative feedback by providing positive feedback simultaneously; assigning a co-worker to act as a “buddy” or mentor.

7. Learning Disabilities. This term covers a variety of disabling conditions. Essentially, someone with a specific learning disability may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, hearing (processing oral information), doing math, and yet have above average intelligence. Hear are some examples of how these learning disabilities can be accommodated in the workplace.

  • An employee had difficulty reading instructions. A co-worker was assigned to read to the employee. Written communications were put on the employee’s voice mail. His supervisor gave instructions verbally. Important written information was highlighted and the employee read only that information.
  • An employee consistently turned in reports that had misspellings and grammatical errors. Spellcheck was added to office computers and the employee was instructed on its use. Secretarial services were provided for the employee.
  • An employee frequently made errors in following verbal directions. The supervisor made sure that instructions were given slowly and clearly in a quiet location. The supervisor wrote down important instructions. The employee took notes on directions and wrote down the instructions for the supervisor to review prior to starting tasks. The employee repeated instructions to the supervisor.
  • An employee transposed numbers frequently while doing mathematical calculations. The worker stated numbers aloud when writing them down and touched numbers to be sure they were correct. His employer gave him a talking calculator.

8. Brain injury. A brain injury is different from many other disabilities because the onset of the injury can be traumatic and sudden. A person who could handle certain tasks with ease now may struggle to complete them. Identifying an accommodation for an individual who has sustained a brain injury includes a variety of support strategies. Some of the most successful include: memory log books; flexible rest periods; job sharing or modified work schedules; task checklists; smaller job steps to improve sequencing; simple language when giving instructions; wheelchairs and related-accessibility; and job sharing.


  • A worker with traumatic brain injury is employed at a bank, processing checks and other transactions. Items must be numbered and placed into a sorting machine tray in a special manner. The problem lay in the employee’s periodic confusion due to memory loss and weakness in one side of his body. A job coach/trainer was assigned by the local vocational rehabilitation agency (at no cost to the employer) to train the employee in task sequencing. The trainer also provided him with a side support for his chair.
  • A file clerk with a permanent head injury was unable to stand for long periods of time. He was given a wheelchair ($450) to use while on the job.

9. Epilepsy. This disability is usually accommodated by making sure the individual with epilepsy has access to his or her anticonvulsant medication. (About 80% of persons with epilepsy can control their seizures in this way.)

Typical accommodations include job restructuring and reassignment.


  • Shortly after being hired as a receptionist, an individual was told by her supervisor that she would occasionally have to take care of errands by car. The receptionist revealed that she does not have a driver’s license due to her epilepsy. The supervisor determined that she could take care of these occasional tasks using public transportation or, if necessary, a taxi. Eventually, she took on some responsibilities from an administrative assistant who would take care of the errands.
  • An individual was hired as a carpenter by a building contractor, After he started work, he was told he would also be expected to do some work repairing roofs, He told his supervisor that he was under strict medical orders to stay off ladders and avoid heights. After documenting his epilepsy and the restrictions, he was reassigned to projects that would require him to work exclusively as a carpenter.

10. HIV/AIDS. People with AIDS are living and working longer than just a few years ago. Many of the accommodations associated with AIDS are similar to those with other disabilities. Here are four examples:

Loss of vision—A director of programming for a parks and recreation department was having difficulty getting her reports typed because of her vision loss to CMV retinitis. She was able to benefit minimally from magnification devices that were already available in the office. As her vision loss got worse, she was provided with a screen reading software package that read to her while she typed as well as read the computer commands. This accommodation cost $600.

Weight loss and chronic diarrhea—A computer operator was experiencing weight loss and chronic diarrhea as a result of having HIV. She was provided with an ergonomic chair with extra padding and began to change seating situations often, This prevented her from getting sores from sitting in one position for prolonged periods of time. The employee’s work station was moved closer to a restroom to provide her better access. The total cost for her accommodations was $500, for the purchase of the chair.

Difficulty standing for long periods of time -~ A pharmacist was having difficulties standing for 8 hours a day on a tile floor. This employee was responsible for filling descriptions for medications. The work area was carpeted with extra padding, which reduced his fatigue. His employer purchased a sit/stand/lean stool to assist him in standing. The employee was permitted to take frequent rest breaks throughout the day. This was made possible by the employee cutting his lunch hour to 30 minutes, which provided him with 30 minutes to use at other times of the day whenever he needed a break. Another pharmacist was available to cover his breaks. Total cost of the accommodations was approximately $2,500.

Memory loss and concentration problems—A mail room and copy room administrator working for a law firm was experiencing memory loss and concentration problems due to early stages of dementia. He was afraid to talk with his employer because of fear that he would be seen as someone who cannot do the job. His immediate supervisor was noticing that he was not getting many of his tasks done and that he was unable to prioritize the copy jobs as before.

His supervisor requested a meeting and asked what was going on. The employee told the supervisor what the problem was and was provided with the following accommodations: All of his job tasks and projects were provided in written form and a priority list was given to him each day to make sure that the most important jobs were done first. He was also provided was a check list for each task and job so that he could make sure for himself that all of the items were completed. The cost of these accommodations was $0.

Tip of the Month

Administering Tests to Applicants Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

In the testing situation, the most important consideration for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing is how well they understand spoken instructions (whether through residual hearing or lip reading) and how well they speak. Job candidates who have a good understanding of spoken instruction through hearing or lip reading may wish to be tested with the other applicants. Those who cannot comprehend spoken instructions through these means would usually benefit from individual testing, in which they can communicate extensively with the examiner through writing, gestures and sign language.

Job candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing should be informed when they are tested in classroom-style settings that they may choose between a group and an individual testing. They should also be told (preferably before the date of the test) that they may have the services of a sign language interpreter for the examination.