The Enabling Employers Award given out in April commemorated employers who have taken the lead in employing people with disabilities. This is an encouraging trend as people with disabilities want to be contributing members of the economy. Through employment, they can gain self-confidence and be self-reliant and financially independent. In this article, advocacy manager Poh Sho Siam provides insight on how people with disabilities can work efficiently if given the opportunities, training and accommodation support such as assistive technology and workplace adjustments.
What is Job Accommodation?
An accommodation refers to any modification or adjustment to a job, work environment, or the way things are usually done, so as to enable a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunity.
Job Accommodation Information
Here are two online resources that employers could use as guides when carrying out job accommodations.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) in the United States and JobAccess in Australia are two government initiatives that help people with disabilities enhance their employability and provide information and advice about the employment of people with disabilities.
JAN helps employers determine effective accommodations based on specific medical conditions and provides information about the condition, accommodation ideas and resources for additional information. Similarly, JobAccess provides a ‘Workplace Adjustment Tool’ which allows employers to search for accommodation ideas based on the types of job being undertaken, the nature of the disability, the accommodation tools or a particular supplier. Employers can also read up on various case studies and success stories.
The kinds of information available include the following:
Checklist for Accommodation Process
To help accommodate employees who are wheelchair users, these are some questions that employers need to answer:
i. What limitations does the employee experience as a wheelchair user?
ii. How have these limitations affected the employee and his job performance?
iii. What specific job tasks have become challenging for the employee as a result of these limitations?
iv. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
v. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
vi. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
vii. Would supervisory personnel and employees need to undergo training to work alongside employees who use wheelchairs?
Checklist for Accessibility
Checklists are also available to assist employers in identifying issues that might affect the level of access to their goods, services, facilities and premises for people with disabilities. Here are a few questions to include:
- Is part of the front desk or reception area at a height that can be accessed by a wheelchair user or someone of short stature?
- Are there tables, cubicles, water coolers, telephones, computers, ticketing machines or other facilities, at a height that can be accessed by wheelchair users?
- Is there at least one restroom that is large enough to be used by a person using a wheelchair or walking frame?
- Are controls and switches at an accessible or reachable height for everyone including people using wheelchairs?
- Are floor coverings non-slip, firm and smooth for people using wheelchairs or walking frames?
Examples of Accommodations
People who use wheelchairs may need to overcome a number of obstacles when entering the building and getting to their workstations. These are some possible accommodations that employers can adopt:
- Accessibility to Premises
- Install ramps
- Install automatic doors
- Set up kitchen amenities at a height accessible from a wheelchair
Accessibility to Workstations
- Provide height-adjustable desks or tables for persons who cannot work comfortably at an existing desk
- Provide accessible filing systems for persons who cannot reach upper and lower file drawers in a vertical file cabinet
- Place office supplies and frequently used materials on most accessible shelves or drawers for those who cannot reach upper and lower shelves and drawers
- Provide accessible office machines, such as photocopiers and faxes, so a wheelchair user can access them from a seated position
- Make available page turners and book holders for a person who cannot manipulate paper
- Provide writing aids for a person who cannot grip a writing tool
- Be prepared to provide voice activated speaker phones, large button phones, an automatic dialing system and voice mail system, and/or headsets, depending on the person’s limitations and preferences
- Ensure alternative access for computers are available, such as speech recognition, morse code entry, trackballs, key guards, alternative keyboards, and/or mouth sticks, depending on the person’s limitations and preferences
Some employers may be apprehensive about what they need to do to meet the needs of a person with disabilities. What they may not know is that modifications to the working environment need not necessarily be extensive. It is important that employers communicate with employees on the adjustments required and to consider each individual’s needs on a case-by-case basis.
In Singapore, help is available for employers who are considering employing people with disabilities. The Open Door Programme provides funding to companies to implement job redesign, workplace modification, integration and apprenticeship programmes. The Building and Construction Authority’s Accessibility Fund can also be tapped on for modification to office buildings so that they can be accessible to persons with disabilities.