Employment Supports & Accommodations
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an accommodation or employment support?
An accommodation or employment support is an adjustment that is made to ensure that an individual with a disability has access to the workplace and can successfully perform job tasks. Workplace accommodations and supports range in their level of complexity from simply raising a desk so that a wheelchair can fit under it, to more advanced assistive technology. Typical employment supports or accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
- physical accessibility (e.g., installing ramps, lowering desks)
- job restructuring
- modified work schedules and flex time (e.g., telecommuting)
- acquisition or modification of equipment or devices (e.g., TTY, low vision readers)
- computer software and adaptations; and
- availability of qualified readers or interpreters
A workplace accommodation or support may also include the assistance of a workplace mentor or employment specialist. A workplace mentor typically is an employee who possesses the skills and knowledge to be mastered by another employee, and who instructs that employee on the tasks.
Employment specialists or job coaches also offer training and support to individuals requiring more attention than that provided by a workplace mentor. They also provide support to employers and other co-workers, so that they can comfortably and confidently interact with employees who have disabilities. Unlike a workplace mentor, job coaches are not usually employees of the company, rather they come from an entity outside of the workplace, such as a school transition program or employment agency.
How should accommodations or employment supports be identified and
provided for a work-based learning experience?
The first and most obvious place to start is with each individual student. They may know from previous classroom or community experiences what works best, and how supports and accommodations can be applied in particular situations. Their family members are also good resources for accommodation solutions, especially if the student is inexperienced in the workplace or having difficulty clearly articulating their support needs.
Teachers and other professionals who have worked with the student can also provide important information about accommodations the student needs. Finally, employers, schools, and students should work cooperatively to find reasonable solutions in meeting the unique needs of particular students with disabilities in different work settings. Each student and each situation is unique.
What is the relationship between employment supports or accommodations
and a students Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
Work-based experiences are important in improving the post-school outcomes of youth with disabilities. These experiences help define the type of accommodations and supports that students need to successfully participate in the workplace.
It is important for students with disabilities to have individualized supports so they can benefit from work-based learning experiences. This requires administrative commitment and expertise that includes an IEP with a transition statement that outlines the work experience. The determination and use of supports and accommodations should be discussed within the students IEP.
Who pays for an accommodation or employment support?
Circumstances dictate who pays for supports and accommodations. In unpaid work-based experiences, the school or agency coordinating the work-based experience may assume or share in the costs associated with the supports or accommodations. Should the student require or use assistive devices, the student and/or the school may have already acquired them, and if not, will jointly determine how they are acquired. IEP required supports are usually the schools responsibility to provide. Occasionally the students family will have insurance coverage to pay for the devices.
At the worksite, the school or community agency should work with the employer to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations at the job site and to determine the financial responsibilities. In cases where the student is hired directly by the employer for a posted job, requirements by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations will apply, unless doing so would result in an "undue hardship" for the employer (see question below regarding legal requirements).
When undue hardship is indicated, employees are given the option of paying for the accommodation themselves or covering the cost of the portion that causes undue hardship. In the vast majority of work-based learning experiences, however, supports and accommodations are mutually negotiated between school or employment programs, the student, and the employer (see below for research on accommodation outcomes).
How much does it cost an employer to make an accommodation?
Employment supports and accommodations are usually inexpensive. In fact, the benefits to employers in providing support and accommodations when hiring a person with a disability typically outweigh the costs of accommodating them. The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) found that 80% of all supports and accommodations cost less than $500, with 31% of supports and accommodations made at no cost to the employer. Information about JAN can be found at http://www.jan.wvu.edu.
Are there legal requirements related to workplace accommodations?
Yes. As young people move out of work-based learning experiences and into more permanent paid employment, the accommodations or employment support they sometimes need is addressed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities be "qualified"; that is, they must satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and complete the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
It is the responsibility of the applicant or employee to inform their employer of a disability in which an accommodation is needed. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if they are unaware of such a need. Rather, every job candidate should be prepared to identify to an employer their strengths, skills, and accommodations requirements. Disclosure of a disability is a personal choice, however a discussion on relevant accommodations or alternative methods for completing the job tasks only takes place when needs are expressed to the employer. How to effectively advocate ones strengths and disclose a disability can be "practiced" during a young persons work-based learning experience.
When does the ADA require that an accommodation be made?
The ADA defines three circumstances in which an employer may be required to provide an employment support or accommodation:
- When applying for a job to enable the person with a disability equal access to job opportunities;
- While employed to enable the employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of their position or positions they desire;
- Through the employee benefit package to enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of the employment.
Employers are required to offer support or accommodations to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship. An accommodation is considered an undue hardship if it is too costly, extensive, too substantial, or too disruptive.
Moreover, accommodations and supports should not only be provided to ensure equal access and full participation, but to facilitate the productivity of the person. If employers can see the benefit of an accommodation as opposed to looking solely at the disability, they are far more likely to make the accommodation available.
Do accommodations or employment supports have a negative impact
on the other employees?
No. Research has found that accommodations made for an employee with a disability often lead to greater productivity of the overall company. Accommodations and modifications to the workplace are designed to remove barriers and to ensure that all employees can successfully complete their job tasks. These accommodations or employment supports are made in a non-discriminatory manner. In fact, accommodations or employment supports made for employees with disabilities typically are effectively adopted for other workers, contributing to greater productivity for the entire company.