In today’s booming economy, more and more employers are facing a shortage of workers; one that they might fill by reaching out to people with disabilities. But what about the cost of accommodations for workers with disabilities?
As part of the UPR original series Diagnosed, JoLynne Lyon takes a look at some misconceptions about the cost of employing a non-typical worker, whether they need high-tech, low-tech or no-tech solutions.
Imagine your work day ended late. You’re on your way home and your family is already there, wondering where you are. You don’t want to take another minute tapping out a message on your phone. So you dictate a text message to them as you head out the door.
Congratulations! You’ve just used assistive technology.
“How many of us use speech to text options on our phone or our computer, just because it’s more convenient at certain times?” asked Kevin Christensen, an occupational therapist with the Utah Center for Assistive Technology in Salt Lake City, or UCAT.
“For some people with disabilities, that is the only way that they can text or use their phone is through their voice,” he said. “But certainly it helps everyone else that is able to use their voice as well, who don’t have disabilities.”
The speech to text function is just one example of a simple accommodation for a worker who has difficulties using a keyboard or touch screen. And it’s free.
Thomas Smith, business relations specialist with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, said many are. “One thing that we always point out when it comes to accommodations and assistive technology is, 50% of those are free. 50% cost nothing.”
“This is a common thing that we run into,” Christensen said. “Of, ‘Oh, my employee has X disability or a certain type of disability, so obviously they need this or some sort of thing to help them with this.’ But being able to step back and understand the whole picture helps us to understand that it’s maybe not technology that’s the solution, maybe it’s just an accommodation, or something that doesn’t involve a device or a technology.”
“When you’re looking at workplace accommodations, do you know what the most commonly requested accommodation across the entire workforce is?” asked Smith. “It’s a flexible schedule. And that’s something that people with or without disabilities ask for constantly.”
But sometimes, technology is needed. Sometimes it’s high tech, and possibly expensive. And sometimes it might surprise you.
“We had an individual that was hired by a company whose office happened to be several floors up in a high rise building,” Smith said. “The individual had limited range of motion with their arms and they were confined to a wheelchair. And the company was gung ho about hiring this individual and they were looking at how do we make it accessible, because they can’t reach out and hit the elevator button.
“They were looking at installing an accessibility button or getting a remote control of some form that they could call the elevator with, and those type of accommodations would of course cost thousands of dollars.
“And we got our UCAT folks involved, they went down and assessed the situation, and they essentially told the company, 'Now hold on just a second,' and they ran down to the hardware store, bought a dowel, came back and cut it to size so it could fit in the individual’s chair. And that individual could then just pick up the dowel, reach out, hit the button and have full access to their new office space.”
But if there is a cost, there are sometimes options to help with that.
“If they’re partnered with some of our other partner agencies, like if they’re a vocational rehabilitation client, there’s a potential that the VR counselor could assist with those costs, and there’s other sources as well,” Smith said.
For work-related accommodations, Smith and Christensen recommended these resources:
And for accommodations at home, they recommended these. (UATP is part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities, which supports Utah Public Radio.)
Music: “Your Call” by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com)
Licence: CC BY( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Support for Diagnosed has been provided in part by our members and Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based not-for-profit system of 23 hospitals, 170 clinics, a Medical Group with close to 2,300 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health plans group under the name SelectHealth, and other medical services. Details found here.