Nearly Half of Accommodations for Disabled Employees Cost Nothing

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales May 25, 2023

​A recent report revealed that one-time workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities are typically cheaply priced. In many instances, they have no cost to employers.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a workplace consultation site funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, in May released findings from survey data related to costs of workplace accommodations from about 720 employers of various industries and sizes.

According to the report:

  • Nearly half of those companies (49 percent) said the accommodations needed by a disabled employee cost nothing.
  • Another 43 percent of employers incurred a one-time cost, of which the median expenditure was about $300—a reduction in cost from previous years' reports.
  • About 7 percent said the accommodations led to an ongoing, annual cost to the company.

Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Taryn M. Williams said in a statement that the report "reinforces what Job Accommodation Network has repeatedly in its work observed, which is that accommodations for disabled workers are indeed a low-cost, high-impact strategy for supporting and retaining valued talent."

Amy Scherer, a senior staff attorney for vocational rehabilitation at the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C., said there has long been a misconception that accommodations for people with disabilities are expensive and complex, when the opposite is usually true.

"JAN has been making this argument effectively for years," Scherer said. "But it is great to see that the average cost of reasonable accommodations continues to drop, likely due to the cheaper cost of various forms of technology."

Scherer, who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, noted that most of her accommodations cost very little. For example, her desk is adjusted slightly higher so her wheelchair can slide underneath it. In previous jobs, she simply slid four small pieces of wood under the legs of the desk to self-accommodate.

"We commonly have to adapt and find creative ways to accomplish tasks in a different way than our nondisabled counterparts," Scherer said.

How Effective Are Workplace Accommodations?

The report also highlighted several direct and indirect benefits that accommodations can impart, as reported by participating employers:

Direct Benefits

  • Retained a valued employee: 85 percent.
  • Enhanced employee productivity: 53 percent.
  • Greater employee attendance: 48 percent.
  • Eliminated costs associated with training a new employee: 46 percent.
  • Improved diversity of the company: 33 percent.
  • Saved employees' compensation or other insurance costs: 23 percent.
  • Hired a qualified person with a disability: 18 percent.
  • Promoted an employee: 8 percent.

Indirect Benefits

  • Improved interactions with co-workers: 34 percent.
  • Enhanced safety: 31 percent.
  • Increased company morale: 30 percent.
  • Better interactions with customers: 22 percent.
  • Greater company productivity: 21 percent.
  • Improved company attendance: 19 percent.

Craig Leen, an attorney with K&L Gates in Washington, D.C. and a former director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said workplace accommodations increase productivity and expand the available workforce to address labor shortages.

"From a civil rights perspective," he explained, "a proactive accommodations approach is welcoming to employees with disabilities and shows that the employer cares about disability inclusion, ultimately increasing morale and decreasing potential liability."

Failing to Provide Workplace Accommodations

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been cracking down on companies that fail to reasonably accommodate qualified employees or applicants who are disabled.

The EEOC recently sued an employer that allegedly unlawfully denied remote work to someone at a heightened risk of severe complications if she were to contract COVID-19. In February, the agency filed a lawsuit against a organization for allegedly denying an employee with breast cancer reasonable accommodations and forcing her to resign.

Failing to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Accommodations are legally required when reasonable and where there is no undue hardship," Leen noted.

In addition to legal concerns, a lack of accommodations would result in an unfair obstacle for employees with disabilities in the workforce, Leen explained.

"Employers want their employees to succeed and receive any accommodations they need," he said. "That's why it is so important to build a welcoming environment where employees are comfortable disclosing their disability and seeking an accommodation through the interactive process."

Scherer echoed Leen's sentiment.

"Everyone would like to enjoy their jobs or at least feel like they are contributing to society," she said. "But, as a person with a disability, it is especially hard to achieve those goals if you don't have the right tools or support that you need to do the job well."



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