Workplace Accommodation Policy: 10 Key Issues

Summary:

While policy issues touching on accommodation and integration are of concern to a number of different communities, the following list details ten issues focusing on issues of workplace accommodation and integration as they apply to people with disabilities:

Issue Focus:

Equity in the Costs of Implementing Workplace Accommodations and Integration:

Determining an equitable distribution of costs to the stakeholders is an important consideration in addressing discrimination of disabled workers and workplace integration. Frequently overlooked are consideration of costs of inaction and the indirect benefits of various measures and strategies, such as evaluation of the role of employment tax incentives for workers with disabilities and businesses as a mechanism to increase successful workplace integration. Other factors, captured in an industry survey conducted by The Universal Design Research Project, a three-year study funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) revealed that nearly "all interviewees mentioned cost as an element in their company's decisions. External UD [Universal Design] advocates sometimes portray it as cost-free - "It's just good design that expands the potential market." While consistent with a conventional human factors approach, many interviewees saw UD as having some additional costs in design resources or manufacturing that were hard to justify, both internally in the struggle for resources and externally in the market." ( http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/univ_design_res_proj/udrp.htm).

Civil Rights:

According to Title I of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000, "disability is a natural part of the human experience that does not diminish the right of individuals with developmental disabilities to live independently, to exert control and choice over their own lives, and to fully participate in and contribute to their communities through full integration and inclusion in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of United States society." (42 U.S.C. 15001, sec. 101 (a)(1) http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/add/DDA.htm) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers make workplace accommodations for people with disabilities when such accommodations are reasonable ones. Thus, understanding and anticipating both legal and political decisions relating to the civil rights of people with disabilities continues to be an important policy concern.

Collection of Valid Data Concerning Workplace Accommodation and Integration:

Problems of validity are associated with widely used disability employment data. For example, NIDRR's Long Range Plan for Fiscal Years 1999-2003 notes that Federal data collection efforts-- including the Census, the NHIS, the SIPP, the Current Population Survey (CPS), and many other program-specific data collection methods--both fail to address important new concepts of disability, and are limited in other ways. Sampling procedures may exclude low-incidence disabilities and generate insufficient information about minority populations; self-reporting leads to underreporting many conditions; and survey formats frequently are inaccessible to people with cognitive, sensory, or language limitations. Many data collection efforts, public and private, do not routinely include information about people with disabilities in analysis and reporting. The accuracy of such data is critically important in an era of evidence-based policy, and data lacking statistical validity can lead to misguided or premature public policy decisions. As noted by the Disability Policy Panel of the National Academy of Social Insurance, valid data and careful statistical research "inform about the circumstances that distinguish persons with disabilities successfully integrated into the work force from those who become unable to work because of their impairments." ( http://www.ncddr.org/new/announcements/nidrr_lrp/lrp_dd.html#2lifds).

Outcome Performance Measures:

Practical outcome performance measures are necessary in determining whether a particular policy is working. The National Center on Workforce and Disability/Adult White Paper, "Using the Emerging Disability Policy Framework to Create a Fully Inclusive Twenty-First Century Workforce Investment System" ( http://www.onestops.info/article.php?article_id=146&subcat_id=62), includes: (a) "Procedural Safeguards: Presence of notice, access to records, and a complaint resolution process (including due process hearing and right to appeal) for individuals to supplement the monitoring and enforcement by government agency personnel;" (b) "Monitoring and Enforcement: Presence of processes for government agencies to review policies, practices, and procedures and actual implementation and the ability to respond to findings in a timely and effective manner."

Transportation and Telecommuting:

A key barrier to the integration of people with disabilities into the U.S. workforce is an inability to travel from home to the workplace. Development of innovative personal transportation vehicles and assistive technologies addresses at least some of the transportation issues faced by people with disabilities, although it remains unclear whether these innovations optimize the goal of integrating them into the U.S. workforce. The National Council on Disabilities (NCD) 2002 National Disability Policy: A Progress Report claims that for many U.S. residents with disabilities, [that] accessible transportation represents one of the chief barriers to participation in economic and community life." ( http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/progressreport_07-26-02.html#summary(Link no longer available)) A component of transportation that affects issues of workplace accommodation and integration of the disabled is "telecommuting". The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in its 1999 (revised October 17, 2002) Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act wrote that "allowing an individual with a disability to work at home may be a form of reasonable accommodation." ( http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/telework.html). Determining whether some sort of work-at-home program (with or without a telecommuting connection) is a reasonable accommodation "should be made through an "interactive process" between the employer and the individual. ( http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/telework.html) In this connection, A Progress Report on Fulfilling America's Promise to Americans with Disabilities ( http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/newfreedom/summary.html) reports that the G.W. Bush administration has supported measures that would provide tax incentives for company purchases of equipment allowing an employee to work from home, as well as obtaining $20 million for matching grants to states to help people with disabilities buy equipment necessary for telecommuting to work.

Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security:

As noted by the NCD, "no discussion of public issues can be complete today without recognition of the imperatives of security." ( http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/progressreport_07-26-02.html#chap13) Recent Harris Interactive survey results released by The National Organization on Disability (NOD) note "58% of people with disabilities say they do not know whom to contact about emergency plans for their community in the event of a terrorist attack or other crisis, 61% of people with disabilities say that they have not made plans to evacuate, quickly and safely, their home, and 50% of disabled people employed full or part-time say that they have no plans to evacuate safely their workplace." ( http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=272). As noted in the NOD's "People with Disabilities Unprepared for Terrorist, Other Crises at Home or at Work, New Poll Finds," all "these percentages are higher than for those without disabilities, 51 percent of whom report not knowing whom to contact about community emergency plans, 58 percent of whom say plans are not in place for evacuating home, and 44 percent for work." ( http://www.nod.org/cont/dsp_cont_item_view.cfm?viewType=itemView&contentId=680) In November 2001, N.O.D. President Alan A. Reich and other NOD representatives met with Tom Ridge to address the disability community's specific concerns relating to emergency preparedness. ( http://www.nod.org/cont/dsp_cont_item_view.cfm?viewType=itemView&contentId=621) At that meeting the NOD "urged Ridge, other government officials at the federal, state and local levels, emergency planners, and the disability community to work together to ensure that adequate plans are in place to accommodate people with disabilities in the event of future disasters." ( http://www.nod.org/cont/dsp_cont_item_view.cfm?viewType=itemView&contentId=680).

Workplace Accessibility and Universal Design:

As noted in the ABLEDATA Fact Sheet ( http://www.abledata.com/text2/ramps.htm), "for most wheelchair and scooter users, just one step may as well be a mountain." In addition to physical access to the workplace, accommodation also includes accessibility to workplace tools such as the Internet, etc. Another factor is the trade-off between accessible design and universal design. Accessible designs focus on addressing functional impairments by special additions to an existent workplace environment, while universal design seeks a systemic change in the workplace environment to promote the complete integration of people with disabilities. Affecting a transition from assistive environments to facilitative environments to environments in which "products and buildings are accessible by everyone, including people with disabilities," is critical. ( http://www.ap.buffalo.edu/idea/publications/free_pubs/pubs_cud.html).

Environmental Control:

A necessary condition for people with disabilities to engage in efficient and effective work is that the workplace (internal) environment accommodates their disabilities. As noted by the Washington Assistive Technology Alliance, using Environmental Control Units (ECU's) is one way to realize this goal. ECU's can range from a simple remote control to operate a light to the more sophisticated, voice-activated computer-based systems, which can control fax machines, answering machines, telephones, and room temperature. Typically, an ECU consists of three essential components: an input device, a control unit and an appliance. The input device controls the ECU by sending a signal to the control unit through direct selection (keypad, keyboard, joystick, etc.), switches, or voice control. The control unit receives the input (signal) and translates the information into the desired output. The appliance receives the output signal and performs the intended command. ( http://wata.org/resource/e-control/)

Technology:

Many issues concern technology and workplace accommodation/integration, however two are especially important. The first relates to limitations in the scope of definitions of `information technology' and people with disabilities. Section 255 of the Federal Communications Act defines "telecommunication services" as services that facilitate and carry voice communication. This definition appears to leave e-mail and data transmission uncovered. The FCC is seeking to broaden "telecommunication services" to include these other applications. NCD recommended that FCC act quickly to apply this new definition while Congress takes care to ensure that existing civil rights protections under Section 255 are not jeopardized by this deregulation. The NCD also recommended reauthorization of the Assistive Technology Act to ensure continued protection and advocacy of assistive technology. The second issue concerns the lack of incentives for private industry to think in terms of UD for products, evident in an apparent lack of communication between product designers about the benefit of using universal design concepts for new products. Despite the size of the market of people with various disabilities, manufacturers seem to have few incentives to design products to accommodate the needs of the disabled community. An important information resource is The Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC), funded by NIDRR. The goal of ITTATC is the advancement of accessible electronic and information technology and telecommunication products and services, based on new legislative initiatives Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. ( http://www.ittatc.org)

Education:

With respect to workplace accommodation, there are at least three separate educational issues. First, there is the issue of providing information (in a form they can access and understand) to people with disabilities about their rights. Second, there is the issue of rehabilitation for people with disabilities that will permit them to enter or re-enter the workplace. As noted by Robert Silverstein, under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an individual is eligible for [vocational services] if the individual "is an individual with a disability . and requires vocational rehabilitation services to prepare for, enter, engage in, or retain gainful employment." Third, complete workplace accommodation of people with disabilities means providing educational opportunities to youths that will enable them to enter the workforce. However, as noted by the NOD, "young people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school, and only half as likely to complete college" as compared with other U.S. youths. ( http://www.nod.org/cont/dsp_cont_item_view.cgm?viewType=itemView&contentID=1293)


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