Paula Morgan Contributor
The economic crisis brought about by Covid-19 touched the lives of all Americans, but individuals with disabilities were faced with more challenges than most. About 1 million people with disabilities lost their jobs between March and August, and at 12.3% – the unemployment rate for the disability community is double the national rate of 6.2%.
The arrival of a Covid vaccine brings hope to many that life will return back to normal. But for individuals with disabilities, a return to any semblance of normal isn’t good enough. In order to improve working conditions for the disabled community, employers must begin 2021 with a plan for improving and creating more diverse and accessible workplaces.
Individuals with disabilities are often overlooked during the hiring process, but they are motivated and qualified to work in a variety of in-demand industries. Many employers incorrectly assume that hiring people with disabilities is complicated and expensive, but in reality, these concerns stem from common misconceptions around accommodations and people with disabilities in the workplace.
Unlocking Productivity For The Next Decade
Many people with disabilities do require some reasonable accommodations in order to work, but these changes are often simple and inexpensive. Below are answers to a few of the most common questions employers have about reasonable accommodations and how to incorporate them in 2021.
1) What is a reasonable accommodation?
The legal expectation of reasonable accommodations comes from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is defined as providing assistance or making changes to a position or workplace to enable qualified employees to do their job despite having a disability, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. Qualified employees are all those who have the requisite degrees, skills and experience to perform the job’s essential functions, with or without accommodations.
2) What do accommodations look like in practice?
There are a variety of changes that could be considered reasonable accommodations, including modified schedules, flexible hours, and remote work opportunities, which are now more common than ever. This last one is a policy the disability community has been advocating for, unsuccessfully, for years. Employers, citing concerns of decreased productivity, were reluctant to implement it, but the pandemic has effectively invalidated that argument. A sizable number of Americans successfully transitioned to remote work within a matter of weeks, and with many continuing to do so, there is reason to hope that more employers will offer remote accommodations to those with disabilities in the future.
3) How much will it cost to implement these accommodations?
The majority of employers would probably be surprised to know that most accommodations can be provided very inexpensively. An ongoing survey conducted by the Job Association Network (JAN) found that 56% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to implement, such as those that simply require adapting previous work styles or processes, while the rest of the accommodations cost, on average, around $500.
4) What effect do reasonable accommodations have on a workplace?
In general, offering reasonable accommodations turns out to be just as beneficial for the employers as it is for individuals with disabilities. These accommodations are meant to increase productivity and allow employees to work as efficiently as possible, and the general principle that investing in employees yields better overall success holds true in this instance as well. The same JAN survey found that employers who provided reasonable accommodations benefitted from greater employee retention, improved productivity and morale, reduced workers’ compensation and training costs, and improved company diversity.
Millions of Americans are hoping that 2021 will bring much needed changes and individuals with disabilities are no exception. As employers consider hiring needs for the new year, this information can help inform their decisions so they don’t miss out on the talented and motivated potential employees who are often overlooked.
Making reasonable accommodations for these individuals is an inexpensive and effective way for employers to create a more efficient and inclusive workplace for all employees. Employers have as much to gain by doing so as their employees, and these simple changes will go a long way toward improving the employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities nationwide.