Accommodating Disabilities Is the Law — and It's Good for Business

January 07, 2019

A man in a wheelchair works with a colleague
John Rossheim

If your company is like most, creating a workplace that's inclusive for all workers is a top priority for human resources and upper management. Workers come to your company with diverse backgrounds and a variety of mobility capabilities.

You want to make sure employees can excel at your company, while enjoying a comfortable workstation that helps them promote their own health. How can you make sure that your office layout works for everyone, regardless of physical limitations?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Guides Your Way

The ADA requirements for office space "provide a legal framework for people with disabilities to challenge discrimination" and "it is also a broader symbol of bipartisan support for disability inclusion into all aspects of public life," according to the ADA National Network.

The ADA is federal law; the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice oversees compliance with the ADA as a human right. Central to the ADA is the requirement that institutions, including employers, make reasonable accommodations to the needs of people with disabilities. But there are limits to the obligations employers must make. For example, they don't need to make accommodations that would cause the company an undue hardship.

ADA Helps You Do the Right Thing for People With Disabilities

You don't have to look at the ADA as a source of burdensome government regulations. The law's implementation includes practical guidelines that can help you do the right thing for all your employees and gain their loyalty through improved ergonomics and workplace design.

"Reasonable accommodations are not 'special' accommodations," says the ADA National Network. "Often, with low costs and flexible practices, employees and employers can work together to facilitate access without formal complaints."

How Can Workplace Design Accommodate People With Disabilities?

There are many ways for workplaces to accommodate employees with a wide range of disabilities.

  1. Offer ergonomic keyboards to workers with carpal tunnel syndrome, and desks with adjustable-height work surfaces to accommodate people who use wheelchairs.
  2. Install a ramp to give employees and clients who use wheelchairs access to restrooms that currently require the use of stairs.
  3. Ensure that software required for work is accessible to people with visual or motor impairments.
  4. Provide alternative computer pointing devices for employees who are unable to use a mouse or touch pad.

Can Standing Desks Work for People With Wheelchairs?

Some people have medical conditions that might be improved by reducing sitting time, according to the Job Accommodation Network of the U.S. Department of Labor. A standing desk can be a good accommodation at a reasonable cost that improves ergonomics and workplace design.

Standing desks may also aid people who use wheelchairs but are nevertheless able to comfortably alternate between periods of sitting and standing — and whose health would benefit from more changes in position throughout the workday.

Accommodating People With Disabilities Is Good for Business

As you begin onboarding new hires and preparing for their first day on the job, give them the opportunity to inform you of any workplace accommodations that they might need. Do the same when an incumbent employee returns from time off for a disability.

All your employees — not just the ones who live with disabilities — will appreciate your consideration as you comply with ADA requirements for office space. "Providing accommodations in order to retain employees is shown to improve organizational culture and climate," according to a study in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.

And looking out for employees' health isn't just the right thing to do; it's a great way to retain talent in a competitive labor market.

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