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Job Accommodation - Situations and Solutions

In December, 1994, the President's Committee's Job Accommodation Network (JAN) reported that 68% of job accommodations made cost less than $500, and further, that employers report that for every dollar spent on accommodations, the company received $28 in benefits.

Accommodations, which are modifications or alterations, often make it possible for a qualified person with a disability to do the same job as everyone else but in a slightly different way. Some accommodations are simple adaptations; others require technically sophisticated equipment. The essential functions of the job and the functional limitations of the individual are what the employer and the employee want to match up.

An employer should analyze the job tasks, basic qualifications needed to do those tasks, and the kinds of adjustments that can be made to ensure that performance standards will be met. The way the worker does the job is far less important than the outcome.

The following examples are a small sampling of real situations that businesses have reported, along with the solutions used. What is common to all these situations is that accommodations are always made on an individual basis. To find solutions to your own situations, call JAN toll-free at 1-800-526-7234.

Situation: A greenhouse worker with mental retardation has difficulty staying on task and knowing when to take breaks.

Solution: At no cost to the employer, a job coach gave initial training. The worker then carried a tape recorder that provided periodic reminders to stay on task and indicated break time. The worker also carried a set of laminated cards which showed the basic list of tasks to be completed. Cost: $50.

Situation: A radio broadcaster/announcer who is blind needs to read the AP wire news desk material.

Solution: The employer connected a Braille printer to the incoming news service, and installed a switch to move from regular printed material to Braille. Cost: $1,700.

Situation: An administrative assistant in a social service agency has a psychiatric disability that causes concentration and memory problems related to word processing, filing, and telephone work.

Solution: Accommodations included using soothing music in one earphone to block distractions and taped instructions to augment written material. Cost: $150.

Situation: A police officer has a learning disability that makes it difficult to take standard civil service tests.

Solution: Officer was permitted 50% more time to take the test and was allowed to use a dictionary during the examination. Cost: $0.

Situation: A laboratory technician has a permanent restriction on mobility of head and neck, and must use a microscope on the job.

Solution: A periscope was attached to the microscope so the worker does not need to lower her head and bend her neck to perform the job. Cost: $2,400.

Situation: A chef who is paraplegic needs a way to move around the various work stations in the kitchen.

Solution: The chef was provided with a stand-up wheelchair that allowed flexibility and mobility, thereby eliminating the need to change the worksite itself. Cost: Approximately $3,000.

Situation: A highly skilled electronics company technician who has AIDS was taking large amounts of annual and sick leave.

Solution: The employer provided a flexible work schedule and redistributed portions of the workload. The company also instituted AIDS awareness training for employees. Cost: $0.

Situation: A severe brain injury has resulted in a computer programmer's inability to read past the vertical midline of his computer screen, starting at the left side.

Solution: The employer acquired a software package that has a feature for splitting the screen and displaying the text on only the left side of the screen. Cost: Approximately $600.

Situation: A computer programmer in a manufacturing company is a person with cerebral palsy, which affects her fine motor control. The employee uses a wheelchair.

Solution: A bathroom stall was enlarged and safety rails installed; the desk was raised several inches to enable the wheelchair to fit underneath, and computer space was made available on the first floor of the building. A ramp and automatic doors were installed, and a personal parking place close to the elevator was identified. Building owners provided materials and absorbed costs for building remodeling. Cost to owner of the building: Approximately $5,000. Cost to employer: $0.

Situation: A telephone consultant experiences short-term memory loss and auditory discrimination problems due to a brain injury. Her job duties include responding to telephone requests for information and entering information into a computer.

Solution: Sound-absorbing office partitions reduced noise and distractions, and the telephone bell was reprogrammed so that she could readily differentiate between her phone and others in the area. An anti-glare screen guard on the computer reduced screen flicker and prevented dizziness and fatigue. Instructions, daily reminders of meetings and other scheduled activities were provided in writing. Cost: $345.

Situation: A senior programmer for an insurance company has a learning disability resulting in difficulties in memory and using correct words.

Solution: Use of E-mail system helped communication with co-workers by providing quickly written copy of messages. Computer software for word prediction and grammar check was installed. Also, equipment that uses voice output enabled the programmer to read back documents that were entered to reinforce use of words. Cost: Approximately $1,750.

Situation: A repair person has a bipolar disorder and has to attend training seminars. He has problems taking effective notes while paying close attention to instruction.

Solution: A co-worker took notes on notebook paper that prepared carbon copies and shared them. Between the notes and his concentration on the speakers, the employee was able to get the entire content. Cost: $10.

Situation: A bakery worker with mental retardation had trouble placing cookie dough by precise numbers and patterns on sheets due to visual perception problems.

Solution: A plastic template was made for the cookie sheet, with holes cut to indicate the precise placing pattern. Cost: Under $50.

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