Research and practice have shown that workplace accommodations can help people with disabilities find and maintain employment. A literature review revealed that few studies have identified factors that affect the implementation of workplace accommodations. A retrospective analysis of work-related evaluation files was conducted and data collected for demographics, workplace accommodation recommendations and trends. It was noted that a significant gap existed between the information available regarding accommodation in the client files and the actual outcomes of the implementation of the recommendations. A follow-up study was conducted to better clarify those outcomes. Study results will help to develop conclusions about workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.
Workplace accommodation, assistive technology, accommodation strategies, outcomes
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 21.3 million people, or 11.9% of the U.S. workforce-age population has a disability that affects their ability to work. (1) Additionally, there are 4.5 million people age 65 and over who are still employed - more than 1-in-8 people in this age group. (2)
For these individuals, workplace accommodations can be essential to their employment. Research and practice have shown that workplace accommodations, including assistive technology, can help people with disabilities find and maintain employment. Data collected from assistive technology users for a 1993 survey for the National Council on Disability indicated that 90% of employed persons with disabilities reported that assistive technology helped them work faster and better, 67% reported that assistive technology helped them to obtain employment, and 15% reported that the equipment enabled them to keep their jobs. (3)
Legislation is in effect that requires employers to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act mandate the need to provide workplace accommodations, barrier free environments, and access to electronic and information technology.
The award of the Workplace Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center to the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) at Georgia Tech has allowed more in-depth study of workplace issues. CATEA has more than fifteen years experience in evaluating and accommodating clients in the workplace. Clients to the Center pursued or were employed in a variety of job types, including Office and Administrative Support, Sales, Production, and Food Preparation and Serving. Accommodation recommendations were implemented using both off-the-shelf and custom designed and manufactured solutions. Rehabilitation engineers, industrial designers, occupational therapists, and rehabilitation counselors were involved in the evaluation and accommodation process.
The work was originally based on the assumption that utilizing case studies of individual workplace accommodations is an effective way to determine meaningful information related to the prevalence of the most common barriers and facilitators that exist in the workplace accommodation process.
It is documented that assistive technology and accommodations in the workplace can enhance the performance of workers with disabilities (4)(5). A literature search revealed that the social impact of workplace modifications is well studied, that there is a need to address attitudes and perceptions employers hold about people with disabilities in their workplace, and that there is little information concerning specific AT recommendation for workers with disabilities (6). The absence of a comprehensive record of applications and outcomes has resulted in an unnecessary amount of "reinventing of wheels" and accommodations that may not meet user needs.
This research project first conducted a retrospective analysis of existing case files to identify barriers to accessibility of the worksite, use of workplace tools and equipment, and use of communication and computer equipment. Facilitators were also identified in relation to how job site accommodations were used to reduce the impact the barriers presented to the individual with a disability.
It became apparent during the initial phase of the project that information regarding outcomes of the interventions recommended was lacking in the files. This prompted design of a follow-up study to fill this void. A questionnaire was developed containing questions pertaining to what accommodations were implemented following assessment, and the success - or not - of the accommodations implemented. Contact information was compiled for those subjects included in the initial study on the retrospective analysis of user needs. A telephone survey was conducted.
The Work RERC study entitled A Retrospective Analysis of User Needs for Workplace Accommodations (7) identified accommodation and assistive technology recommendations given for the subject population, but revealed inconsistent documentation for implementation outcomes of the technology and accommodations recommended.
The objectives for the follow-up portion of the project were to identify what workplace accommodation recommendations had been implemented, how the accommodations had impacted employment success, and the current status of accommodation for former CATEA clients.
Twenty six subjects were initially contacted for the follow-up portion of the study. The top three job classifications for participants contacted (either they had or were trying to get jobs) were office and administrative (27%), food preparation (12%), and business and financial (12%).
Accommodations that had been recommended included physical/spatial environment (ramp, floor surface alterations, door modifications, bathroom modifications, arrange furniture, parking), assistive technology and work equipment (communication device, speakerphone, assistive technology, adapted tools, computer accommodations, magnification aid, workstation, ergonomic chair), and adaptive strategies (job site orientation, training, eliminate non-essential tasks, pacing, taking breaks, assistance, tool placement).
Accommodations that were implemented included physical/spatial environment (ramp, floor surface alterations, door modifications, bathroom modifications, parking), assistive technology and work equipment (communication device, speakerphone, assistive technology, computer accommodations, magnification aid, workstation, ergonomic chair), and adaptive strategies (job site orientation, training, assistance, tool placement). 31% of the subjects reported receiving no accommodations or assistive technology.
Over half of the subjects (54%) indicated that the accommodations accomplished the intended purpose. People were able to keep working, the impact of disability was eased, subjects could do the work for which they were hired, and there was an increase in independence, efficiency, productivity, save energy and comfort.
Accommodations that were only partially effective or did not work because equipment was awkward to use, didn't work or was inefficient; computer programs were not screen-reader friendly; equipment was not customized for user; cheap equipment broke; things became outdated; equipment not suited for job - workstation too big, wrong equipment purchased, new equipment not compatible with older accommodations (which were not always updated); or the subject's physical condition affected ability to work and use accommodations.
Many took their accommodations to subsequent jobs (46%). 58% of the subjects were still using the accommodations at the time they were surveyed.
27% of subjects described a loop/Catch 22 situation: they couldn't get a job without accommodations, but accommodations would not be provided until a job was secured.
General opinion was that there is a lot of technology available and plenty of people to recommend what might be appropriate for a particular situation, but there are few people available to set things up and to reconfigure equipment in the event upgrades are made, and there are even fewer resources that provide ongoing support and/or maintenance - much of the technology reported abandoned did not work with newer technology, such as a computer with a different operating system.
Many of the accommodations still in use are furniture or workstation related - electronic technology, such as computers, has become outdated or obsolete
This research was conducted as part of the RERC on Workplace Accommodations, which is supported by Grant H133E020720 of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.
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