The Truth and Costs of Reasonable Accommodations

the truth and costs of reasonable accommodations

Last week I wrote about Article 9 of the *UNCRPD – United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability which is primarily concerned with Accessibility to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

Approximately 13% of the Irish population live with a disability.  Does this mean that 13% of the people living in Ireland can only dream about aspects of their life because of restricted access?  This does not sound like a very inclusive society.  Undoubtedly there are lots of people that do indeed dream of full inclusion and access, when in fact, access is also their right.

The UNCRPD applies established human rights principles from the UN Declaration on Human Rights to the situation of people with disabilities. 

This covers Civil, Political, Social and Economic rights in areas such as Education, Health Care, Transport and Employment.

How, as an employer, can you ensure your organisation is open and inclusive?

1. Reasonable accommodations

As an employer, you will know The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 require you to take reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of current and prospective employees with disabilities

This includes providing access (Remember Article 9?) to employment, enabling people with disabilities to participate in employment including promotion, and training. 

But what exactly is a Reasonable accommodation? 

It is where an employer makes a change to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to an employee’s disability when doing their job or a job applicant’s disability when applying for a job.

It involves making a change to tasks, the structure of a job or to the workplace to enable employees with a disability to fully do their job and enjoy equal employment opportunities.

A study conducted by JAN (Job Accommodations Network, USA) not only confirms the benefits of providing accommodations, but also shows that providing accommodations is not costly. More than half the employers surveyed reported that there was no cost for providing an accommodation and the rest of the employers surveyed reported a typical cost of $500.  

Many accommodations are cost free – they just require some creative thinking.  For others which incur a cost, e.g. specialist assistive technology or devices, there are grants available for employers.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations may include:

  • moving desk location to accommodate an employee with a disability,
  • equipment or services provided (both current or new services), for example an appropriate keyboard for someone with arthritis
  • the ways things are done eg – colour coding of files,
  • providing information in an accessible format – eg written materials in large print, Braille, or soft copy,
  • flexible working times eg an employee with epilepsy can sometimes struggle with drowsiness and lack of energy in the mornings, an accommodation may be to have a later starting time. 

2. Health and safety

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers must ensure the safety, health and welfare of all employees in their workplace.

The act places a number of requirements on employers around providing a safe environment and systems of work, access and egress. It pays particular attention to employees with disabilities and employers must take their needs into account. Some specific accommodations are referenced such as accessible doors, passageways, staircases, showers, washbasins, lavatories and workstations.

The Act is concerned with the prevention of workplace injuries and ill-health, I believe it to be as important an Act as the Equality Act and the Disability Act as it focuses entirely on safety of all employees without discrimination of ability.  When the focus is on safety and work systems, a deeper understanding of people’s abilities becomes apparent and it is then easier to discuss and plan for accommodations.

I like this idea of prevention, safe systems of work, understanding ability so relevant accommodations can be introduced and employment protected.  As I mentioned earlier, accommodations do not always cost a lot – just some creative thinking – this is an aspect of my work I very much enjoy.

If you have any queries on how I can assist your workplace explore reasonable accommodations, do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]