Most public and private employers are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. These adaptive tools and strategies allow employees to perform the essential function of their jobs and fully participate in the workplace environment.
Why might employees with disabilities not have these necessary ways to create access? Studies suggest employees lack confidence in requesting adaptations or may not have knowledge of them, among other reasons.
Knowing about what is available and how to request these tools can help you during the job search process and in your daily work once you’re in a position.
Reasonable accommodations are strategies, changes, adjustments or modifications to the job, the work environment, or to the way things are usually done. Accommodations enable employees with disabilities to complete the essential functions of a job.
We asked our former scholarship recipients about accommodations throughout their job search or job. Responses ranged from employers being, “… ready to go, above and beyond, with accommodations,” to “it’s too expensive to accommodate me.” We also heard that many employers needed education about what is available. Here are some responses:
- “They were open to (accommodations), but I had to let them know what was out there and what I needed.”
- “I would say (my employer’s knowledge about accommodations) was limited. They were aware of dictation, like using Dragon to do my notes, but other than that, no.”
- “(There was) possibly some discomfort or awkwardness, but no. I think mostly people are not very knowledgeable, but not hostile.”
Perkins Workplace Hub identifies 10 examples of adjustments or modifications often requested by employees who are blind or visually impaired. Here are three examples.
- Access, or Assistive, Technology
Examples of assistive technology include screen reading software, magnification (software, handheld, electronic), digital recorders and refreshable braille displays. Some software is built into PCs and Macs, while some is purchased or licensed annually. Access technology software may require specialized training to be paid for by the employer or possibly DVR. The Council offers access technology (also known as assistive technology) in free monthly classes and one-on-one appointments.
- Modified Training
Modified Training is required if your workplace is rolling out a new system or upgrading its computer programs. Details specific to employees who use keyboard commands and screen readers may require individualized instruction to learn a new system.
Employees with vision loss often use public transportation or other transit services. Time variations in schedules may require flexibility in scheduling the workday. Starting early or staying late may be an accommodation to work the number of required hours without disciplinary action for tardiness caused by transportation.
Find additional examples on the Perkins Workplace Hub website.
Finding the Right Accommodation
If you are not sure of what you need for a specific task at work, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website is an excellent resource. This is available through the Office of Disability Employment Policy in the US Department of Labor. JAN includes a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) where you research ideas for typical modifications and strategies in employment and education.
One interviewee learns about the newest access (or assistive) technology tools by checking out online reviews. “The latest thing I’ve been doing which has been the most helpful is following specific people on YouTube who have similar eye diseases to me. These YouTubers get assistive technology from companies, they try it out, demonstrate it and discuss the pros and cons.”
How to Request Accommodation
You can request an accommodation at any time during the application process or while you are employed. Requests are not limited to the time when you are applying for a job or after receiving a job offer. Needs can change over time, and whenever there is a barrier that prevents you from performing the essential functions of a job due to a disability, you can request a modification. Don’t wait for your job performance to suffer. Ask for what you need when you know a change would help you do your job better.
To request an accommodation, talk with your employer. You can put this in writing, but face-to-face conversation works too.
Says one of our scholarship recipients, “(During the interview) I would disclose and then also talk about, these are the tools and things that I use in order to do my job in terms of accommodations. It has always been, this is what I use, this is what I can do. A more positive spin like that.”
Accommodations cannot cause “undue hardship” to the employer. This is not specifically defined in the ADA, but it means an accommodation cannot result in significant difficulty or expense for the employer. The employer determines on a case-by-case basis if an accommodation request is reasonable or would cause undue hardship. If a request is denied, you can appeal the decision.
As requests are granted, you can adapt your work and gain confidence to incorporate the tools to enhance your job performance. Says one interviewee, “I have a lot of assistive technology now. I’m still figuring out how to incorporate it into my workflow in a way that benefits me. You can only use so many things at once.”
According to another interviewee, “I remember first working at (a company) and having a video magnifier. One of the first days, I was super nervous to use it. Basically, it came down to if I’m going to do this job this is what I need to do. Not only the knowledge of the different assistive technology that is out there, but the confidence to use it, I think is a huge one.”
- Free, monthly access technology classes from the Council are led by Access Technology Specialist Jim Denham. Find out more at WCBlind.org/Events.
This is the third and final article about employment funded by a grant from the Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired (IBVI). The series was based on the work experiences of Council scholarship recipients who were interviewed at the end of 2019. Thanks to IBVI for giving us resources to identify major barriers and facilitators of employment for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Other Articles in This Series: