Being Accommodating

December 2, 2000
Supervisors’ lack of knowledge aboutaccommodations was cited as an obstacle to hiring disabled job candidates,according to the July 2000 Cornell University study “Americans withDisabilities Act Implementation in the Federal and Private Workplaces.” 

    But that lack ofknowledge extends to disabled individuals, too, says Sheridan Walker, vicepresident of recruiting and development, and co-founder of Hire Potential, aDenver-based workforce training organization. “Some don’t understand thatit’s their responsibility to understand how to use their adaptive equipment tobe productive.” 

    GoodwillIndustry’s Santa Ana, California, location, for example, has a comprehensiveprogram that includes more than 1,000 assistive devices, including page readers,specialized devices for typing and mousing, voice-output devices, and ergonomicequipment. These are available for training and for loan. 

    But not allaccommodations are extensive. Xerox Corp. in Rochester, New York, developsretrofit kits for its multifunction machines that make them usable for the blindor for those in wheelchairs. Dick Schieck, manager of customized applications,says the modifications include Braille kits for multifunctional devices,including maps of the keypads and menus, and modules that angle the keypads,which usually are on top of the machines,  so they are accessible to those in wheelchairs. 

    Wynd Communicationshas designed a wireless communication system specifically for the deaf. Using apalm-sized pager called WyndTell, the company provides a complete set ofcommunication options that include e-mail, TTY, fax, voice, and paging. Many ofits users can’t operate a regular phone and so can’t phone the office orcall home while they are in transit unless they can find a phone with a TTYdevice or access to e-mail. The WyndTell service remedies that. 

    Technology can’tsolve every problem, however. Only 10 to 20 percent of the pages on the WorldWide Web can be read by page readers for the blind, Walker says, but Beth Hatch-Alleyne,a blind senior desktop specialist at Xerox in Webster, New York, begs to differ.“I’m on the Internet all the time. If screens use alt-tags codes insertedinto the copy -- similar to the meta tags used by Web search engines to findkeywords in searches -- to describe the images, most readers will work withthat.” The World Wide Web Consortium posts access standards on its Web site,and the beleaguered wireless application protocol (WAP) promises it will broadenaccess for everybody by streamlining page content. 

    Sometimesaccommodating a disabled employee is simply a matter of being creative. It canmean changing a desk layout from right to left, altering a work schedule toensure that an employee doesn’t work a shift that interferes with medication,providing written instructions, or reassigning tasks. “Most accommodationsdon’t cost a lot of money,” points out Robin Hoornstra, human resourcesconsulting and EEO officer for Wisconsin Electric. Identifying accommodationsand making them work “boils down to having a good supervisor.” 

Workforce, December2000, Vol. 79, No. 12, p. 44  Subscribenow!