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Understanding Accommodations

Change for the better

When you allow a single parent to leave early to pick up her child at daycare, that’s accommodation. When you give an employee with diabetes an extra break to monitor his insulin levels, that’s accommodation too. Installing ergonomic keyboards, changing shifts for religious holidays, offering an on-site yoga class, etc… are just a few of the many ways that you and other employers are accommodating employees on a regular basis.

You willingly make these simple adjustments because you know that they boost employee morale, build loyalty, and improve productivity. You would never think of refusing to hire an employee because she had a child or he had diabetes – you know how easily these situations can be managed. Yet, when it comes to hiring people with disabilities, employers often hesitate, worried about the cost and inconvenience of providing accommodation.

The reality is that many people with disabilities don’t need any accommodations at all.

And those that do often have their needs met with the same type of accommodations that you would offer any other employee – a little scheduling flexibility, a few workplace modifications, or some specialized equipment.

As the following chart indicates, accommodations don’t have to be expensive or complicated to be effective. And they shouldn’t be the reason that you avoid hiring or retaining people with disabilities.

Job Accommodations for Employees without Disabilities Job Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities
An employee with family responsibilities leaves work half an hour early to pick up child from the babysitter. An employee in a wheelchair leaves work half an hour early to take public transit.
An employee who works at a computer all day is given a larger computer monitor to prevent eyestrain. An employee with vision loss is given a computer screen enlarger to improve access to information.
An employee who travels for work uses a smartphone to facilitate file-sharing and communication with co-workers at the office. An employee who is deaf uses a smartphone to facilitate collaborative work and communication with co-workers in the office.
An employee with poor spelling and typing skills uses voice recognition software to improve report-writing capabilities. An employee with limited hand mobility uses voice recognition software to improve report-writing capabilities.

Just as you would give other employees the tools they need to do their jobs well, providing accommodations for people with disabilities allows them to perform at their best. Accommodation requirements may vary, depending on the needs of each individual. But when these workplace supports are in place, they allow you to hire the best candidates for your business and improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of your employees’ job performance.

Smaller Employers and Accommodation

If you are a small or medium-sized employer, you may be concerned about your ability to accommodate employees with disabilities. Smaller employers can be quite apprehensive about the accommodation process because they don’t have experience in this area and don’t have access to the HR staff, disability management programs, employee benefits, and other resources available to larger employers.

But a study of workplace accommodations found that smaller employers (under 100 employees) were actually quite successful at providing appropriate accommodations for their employees with disabilities. In fact, most of the study participants were able to accommodate their employees using resources readily available within the work environment.

The accommodations typically consisted of “modifications to pre-existing resources (training materials, equipment), work routines or assistance provided by co-workers or other work personnel. In situations where the accommodation involved the actual purchase of items, equipment, or services, the costs were nominal.” 1

This research supports what a growing number of small business owners have already discovered – that accommodating employees with disabilities is a manageable process that rarely affects the bottom line and often has the potential to improve the economic value of the company. It simply takes some creativity, resourcefulness, and the willingness to try a new approach.

As an added benefit, the adjustments you make to accommodate people with disabilities may also improve the working environment for other employees.

Clearing hallways of clutter to accommodate a person in a wheelchair makes the workplace safer for everyone. The ergonomic equipment you provide for an employee with fine motor limitations may be useful for other employees who perform repetitive tasks. Reducing workplace distractions for an employee with learning disabilities may improve concentration and productivity for everyone in the department. When you’re open-minded and flexible in your approach to the accommodation process, your business and your employees reap the benefits. 2


  1. Unger DD. Workplace Supports: A View from Employers Who Have Hired Employees with Significant Disabilities. In: Unger DD, Kregel J., Wehman P., Brooke V. Employers’ Views of Workplace Supports: VCU’s Charter Business Roundtable’s National Study of Employers’ Experience with Workers with Disabilities Monograph. 2002
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  2. Source: “Taking Action: An HR Guide to hiring and retaining employees with disabilities” – “Understanding Accommodation”
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