As a professional and a job seeker with a disability, I’m often confronted with a work environment that becomes a challenge for me to consistently successfully navigate because of unique difficulties imposed by my disability. My disability is Cerebral Palsy, and the individual issues that I need to recognize and circumvent on a daily basis are physical in nature, centered on mobility. This is the perspective through which I will summarize and investigate reasonable accommodation within the workplace, however, I’d like to stress that accommodations are not exclusively physical in nature; any aspect of life, work, and disability can be accommodated. The nature of the accommodation depends on the individual necessitating it, the professional responsibilities of the individual seeking accommodation, and the nature of the workplace being accommodated. This means that an office with cubicle spaces for employees seated at computer desks is not the same as a warehouse with heavy machinery and stacked pallets of goods. In any case, each individual within any kind of professional workplace is entitled to reasonable accommodation.
- What does the phrase “reasonable accommodation” mean?
Workplace accommodation as a concept and a benefit is outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as any change or enhancement made to a professional environment that allows a qualified individual with a disability to apply for and/or meet the responsibilities inherent in satisfactorily performing and completing their job duties. It stresses the need to make a work environment equal for professionals who are disabled with those whom are able-bodied. Accommodation is meant to guard against employment discrimination. A common accommodation that I’ve requested and used in the past is the emplacement of automatic doors at the entrance and exit to a workplace. This allows me independent access to apply for a job opportunity, or to get into work everyday so that I can do the job I’m being paid to do. Access seems a simple concept, and is often taken for granted, but what if you literally couldn’t get in the door at your dream job?
Continuing with the automatic door example, having the door as a reasonable accommodation means that the primary concern is presence and function, not style and luxury. I can reasonably request a door that opens and closes automatically so that I can get to work. Insisting those doors be made from solid gold and respond exclusively to my deep and powerful voice is not a reasonable request, and won’t be accommodated. Accommodation is the right of every professional within the workplace, but it isn’t free.
- I’m an employer, not an employee. How does reasonable accommodation benefit me?
Presenting and maintaining a professional environment that is evidently diverse, welcoming, and conscientiously accommodating means that prospective and current employees will feel more relaxed and respected within the workplace. People who feel at ease and worthwhile are more productive in general, and specifically whilst working in an environment that responds to, validates, and collaborates with them on meeting their individual needs, will do more work at a greater rate of accomplishment than someone who feels like a stressed out, angry, inconvenient afterthought when they come in to do their job everyday (if they can get there at all).
Consider also that by promoting the fact that you’re an equal opportunity employer who is open to diversity not only as a philosophical concept, but as a substantiated reality within a day-to-day workplace, you’re opening up your business to a pool of job seekers and consumers who will gratefully recognize your efforts to be accommodating and indiscriminate, becoming more likely to work with you, patronize your business, and spread the word about who you are and what you do. Most workplace accommodations are low cost, but pay huge dividends in productivity good will and public relations.
Obtaining reasonable accommodation in the workplace is an essential skill and resource for every professional with a disability, no matter what the extent of their individual disabling condition, or how their workplace is defined. Reasonable accommodation is the right of every professional, and is centered on creating a philosophical and physical space that allows a qualified individual to do his or her job, and to do it well. Accommodation is at the heart of productivity, and being able to produce is how a successful professional defines and distinguishes his or herself, and how a successful business consolidates its presence within a community, and expands its potential.
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