The right to work – but how do we accommodate persons with disabilities?

The tremendous gap that exists is in the training of human resource professionals around the recruitment and selection of persons with disabilities was highlighted during a recent meeting with a company in the manufacturing sector who wishes to proactively employ persons with disabilities.

There is a tendency for such companies to approach us with the request to identify positions which will suit persons with disabilities. Well… how long is a piece of string?  The fact is that any job could suit someone with a disability, depending on the job and its essential functions, the work environment and the person’s specific impairment.

Reasonable accommodation refers to “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, as well as assistive devices and technology, not imposing a situation, where needed in a particular case, to ensure persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

The purpose of reasonable accommodation is to reduce the impact of the impairment on the person’s capacity to fill the essential functions of the job.  Accommodations, which are modifications or alterations to the way a job is usually performed, should make it possible for a suitably qualified person with a disability to perform as everyone else.

Reasonable accommodation may include –

  • Workstation modification;
  • Adjustment to work schedules;
  • Assistance in making the workplace more accessible to the person’s limitations and needs, for example removal of physical barriers and access to information and technology, amongst others;
  • Adjustment to the nature and duration of the duties of the employee at work; and
  • The reallocation of non-essential tasks and any other modifications to the manner in which the work is usually performed or has been performed in the past.

Accommodations should always be made according to the particular needs of the individual concerned and the nature of the essential requirements of the job.  Some examples of reasonable accommodations are –

  • A call centre consultant with a physical impairment has difficulty typing with his/her hands at high speed

Typing splintSolution : At minimal cost to the employer, the consultant is allowed to type with a mouth stick or use voice input/output, both which allow the consultant to fall within the acceptable typing speed range.

  • A bookkeeper who is deaf cannot speak on the telephone

Hearing loss_email

Solution : The bookkeeper’s colleagues were sensitised to the disability.  The bookkeeper communicates via email, faxes or written messages with colleagues.  Some colleagues have opted to learn basic Sign Language.  On rare occasions, when required for client or staff meetings, an interpreter is retained on a consultant basis by the firm.

  • A highly skilled computer technician who has a hearing impairment needs to communicate telephonically with others.

blind PC2

Solution : The individual benefits from sound amplification technology.  The phone systems at the work environment, along with portable earphones for the computer technician’s cellphone, were furnished with appropriate devices to amplify the sound.

  • A recruitment consultant who has an emotional disability frequently becomes impatient when the workload is consistently high.

Mental health_stress

Solution : The supervisors are sensitised on how to more appropriately interact with the consultant and how to space the workload.

There are, of course, situations where even reasonable accommodations cannot afford the worker the opportunity to meet the basic requirements of the job or where such accommodations cause undue hardship to the employer.

Persons with disabilities are an asset to any company, not a liability. It really comes down to truly equal treatment in the workplace.

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