Reasonable Accommodations at Work
Firstly, a Reasonable Accommodation is any action that helps to alleviate a substantial disadvantage due to an impairment or medical condition.
People with disabilities encounter many different types of barriers in their everyday lives, for example, inaccessible buildings, transport or websites and poor communication or service facilities. Reasonable accommodations are put in place to help reduce these barriers in order to provide equality of access and opportunity for all.
Accommodations or adjustments can be put in place across a variety of environments from supports in third level education for students with disabilities to service providers ensuring all customers can access their goods and services. In a work context, reasonable accommodations are now commonplace and are put in place to enable a qualified person with a disability to fully undertake the job tasks they are hired to do, without which they would potentially be restricted due to the impact of their disability.
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Reasonable accommodations are often inexpensive and uncomplicated to put in place. Adjustments and supports that are available vary greatly. Many such supports require minor adjustments i.e. increasing the font size on a computer screen or relocating someone so that they are near an accessible toilet. Individuals who have similar impairments may not have the same needs or requirements. Best practice is to carry out a needs assessment with a disabled employee. This is essentially a structured consultation with the individual to determine what accommodations they need to perform their role. Remember, don’t assume you know what needs to be put in place - they are the expert on their impairment or condition.
Common reasonable accommodations include the following:
- Assistive listening devices: e.g. amplified telephone handset for a worker to enable use of telephone.
- Induction loops, FM systems and infrared systems which are designed for group situations.
- Screen Reading Software that will read out loud (into headphones) information on the computer screen such as JAWS and screen magnification software such as ZoomText.
- Speech to text dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.
- An optical scanner that scan printed material and ‘read it’ into a computer or voice synthesizer.
Adaptations to the Work environment
- Wheelchair Ramps/Lifts.
- Corridors and office space free from obstacles.
- Moving desk location to accommodate an employee with a disability.
- An accessible website and internal network systems.
- Colour coding of files.
- Rest space or room for employees.
- Alternative office furniture such as height adjustable desk or ergonomic chairs.
- Flashing and audio alarms
Flexible Working Hours
- Time off for medical appointments or flexi-time to accommodate an individual.
- Breaks to allow individuals take medication.
- Allow later start to accommodate sleeping patterns.
- Job Sharing
- Mobility training for employees who are blind as part of their induction into the workplace.
Induction and Training
- Allow time for mobility training for employees who are blind where required.
- Sign language interpreters if necessary.
- Inclusive teaching practices for classroom style training.
- Notes and handouts given out in advance.
- Allow audio recorders at training sessions.
- Be aware that individuals learn in different ways and when training people in you may have to adjust your teaching methods.
- Written materials in alternative format, such as in large print or electronic (e.g. MS Word .doc) format.
Reasonable accommodation is an issue of law not convenience
Equality legislation, which includes the Employment Equality Act 1998 & 2004 and the Equality Status Act 2000 to 2004, now places a legal obligation on employers to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities, in order to ensure equality of opportunity in the recruitment, selection and employment of all job applicants and staff members.
For example, a person who is deaf/hearing impaired and whose first language is Irish Sign Language will be at disadvantage during an interview which is conducted through English. A reasonable accommodation is to provide a sign language interpreter for the interview so that the employee can be assessed on their ability to do the job - as with all other applicants.
For more on the legislation surrounding reasonable accommodations, visit our page on employment legislation.