How and Why You Can Create Reasonable Accommodations

By Desda Moss Jun 20, 2017
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​If your workplace doesn't have a process to manage requests for reasonable accommodation, it's time to put one in place. The fact that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has a disability and 50 percent of the population is dealing with a disability either directly or indirectly makes it urgent for businesses to treat accommodation as a high priority, presenters Lou Orslene and Deborah Dagit told attendees at the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition.    

During their concurrent session, "Unpacking the Reasonable Accommodation Conversation: Achieving Win/Win Outcomes," both speakers called on HR professionals to view a robust reasonable accommodation process as the key to inclusion, adding that doing so requires developing effective communications, actionable policies and consistent practices within their organizations.

Orslene, co-director of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service that provides employers with accommodation options for individuals with disabilities, and Dagit, head of consultancy Deb Dagit Diversity and former vice president and global chief diversity officer at Merck, said there are a variety of disabilities that prompt workers to seek accommodation, including physical conditions, mental health issues and learning differences. They also noted that most disabilities—75 percent—are not easily noticeable.

Most managers and supervisors want to support people with disabilities in the workplace, "but they don't know why they should do it, and they don't know how," Orslene said.

An inclusive culture is conveyed by these five signs:

  • Accessible buildings and technologies.
  • Use of inclusive language.
  • Use of images and video of people with disabilities in public relations and marketing, especially on social media.
  • Collaborative relationships with national and local resources to recruit and retain diverse talent.
  • Inclusive policies and practices.

One of the cornerstones of an inclusive workplace is a clearly communicated reasonable accommodation process with delineated roles for individuals involved; predetermined timelines and lines of accountability for reviewing and creating accommodations; and a method for resolving disputes, including an appeals process.

The accommodation process can be triggered by a request from an applicant or employee or by the recognition that someone with a known disability is facing a barrier that affects job performance. Orslene pointed out that, many times, individuals seeking accommodation don't use the phrase "reasonable accommodation" or mention the Americans with Disabilities Act when making their request.

Dagit said accommodations can take many forms and should be determined in consultation with the person making the request. The most common types are:

  • Modifying someone's schedule or allowing leave time.
  • Making a workplace or workstation accessible.
  • Modifying methods of assessment, communication or training.
  • Modifying or creating policies.
  • Purchasing or modifying equipment or tools.
  • Purchasing a service such as a reader or interpreter.
  • Job restructuring.
  • Job reassignment.
  • Other changes such as telework, allowing service animals or adjusting methods of supervision.

"The worst thing you can do is treat someone with a disability as if they were invisible," Dagit said. "Whether it's something as simple as going out to lunch or participating in career development opportunities, everyone wants to feel included. Educating your workforce and finding ways to support employees with disabilities is good for everyone."

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