Did you know…?
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" for their employees with disabilities.
- Assistive technology (AT) can help provide "reasonable accommodations" by making tasks and/or the workplace accessible.
- Most workplace "accommodations" cost under $500. Simple examples include a watch with a timer/alarm for an employee with memory impairment, a headlamp for an employee with low vision, and lightweight doors for an employee with a physical disability.
- Most accommodations are considered "effective" or "very effective" by employers.
- Employers report improved productivity, retention, attendance, and morale thanks to making "reasonable accommodations" for their employees with disabilities.
(Read more in Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact , a fact sheet by the Job Accommodation Network)
- Help with AT (or another accommodation) for your employee with a disability?
- Who pays for AT?
- Help to pay for AT?
- Where your employee can get evaluated for AT? Where you can find training?
- Where your employee can try out and learn about AT?
- Where your employee can borrow AT on short-term loan?
- Where you can buy used AT and post AT needs?
- Information on workplace ergonomics?
- AT for self-employment or home-based employment?
- Examples of AT-for-work success stories?
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Frequently Asked Questions From Employers
A reasonable accommodation is a change to a workplace environment or a modification/adjustment to a job that helps a qualified person with a disability access an equal employment opportunity.
An equal employment opportunity is the chance to perform a job at the same level or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as is enjoyed by an employee without a disability.
The ADA calls for reasonable accommodation with respect to employment in three ways; to ensure equal opportunity to 1) the job application process, 2) performing essential functions of a job, and 3) the benefits and privileges of employment. Some examples of providing reasonable accommodations include adjustments to the physical environment, creating a modified work schedule, getting or modifying equipment, providing readers or interpreters, or restructuring the job.
Learn more in The Employer's Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from the Job Accommodation Network
Technical assistance is available to help you find AT and make other "reasonable accommodations" for employees in your workplace.
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the US Department of Labor. JAN has a staffed hotline that provides expert individualized assistance to employers of all kinds.
- The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing also run technical assistance programs. Read about them and more at our Technical Assistance page.
- Find providers of AT services and training, including evaluations, at the MassMATCH AT Services Directory. Do you need an on-site workplace consultation? Help modifying a work environment for a valuable employee? The search page allows you to look for particular AT services by region or statewide.
Employers with 15 or more employees have the responsibility to pay for AT as a "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Data collected by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) suggest that most accommodations cost less than $500. Learn more from The Employer's Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) available from the JAN.
If a person's disability resulted from a work-related illness or injury, Worker's Compensation may cover the cost of AT devices and services. To learn more, visit the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents website and download the Injured Worker's Guide.
Tax incentives are available for employers to help purchase AT and for other workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. Employers can get free help understanding tax incentives from Massachusetts Vocational Rehabilitation agencies. Read about technical assistance available to employers at our Technical Assistance page. You can read also read about employer tax incentives at this JAN web page.
If buying AT would mean an undue hardship for your workplace (as in the case of nonprofits) and if your employee is a client of the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) or Veteran's Affairs (VA), help may be available for purchasing the needed AT from the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) departments of these agencies. Help paying for a vehicle modification (such as an accessible van) may also be available if it will help your employee keep (or obtain) employment.
The Mass. Commission for the Blind (MCB) is also a VR agency. Most employers of MCB clients do get assistance with purchasing hardware and/or software accommodations. Read about Vocational Rehabilitation agencies in Funding AT for Work.
Find providers of AT services and training at the MassMATCH AT Services Directory. The search page allows you to look for particular AT services by region or statewide.
If your employee is a client of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission or the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, help may be available for evaluations and training through these agencies' Vocational Rehabilitation departments (MRC, MCB).
MassMATCH has two AT Regional Centers where anyone can learn about and see the latest equipment in action. If you have an employee who needs, for example, an adapted keyboard, an AT Regional Center can show your employee a range of keyboard options and connect you with product representatives for technical support.
MassMATCH AT Regional Centers also provide a device short-term loan program that allows people to 'test drive' AT before deciding what to buy or for other short-term needs. You can browse their device loan inventory and fill out a loan request all online.
At the MassMATCH AT Swap and Shop you can search used equipment for sale in your region, post items you wish to sell, or advertise wanted AT. Maybe you have an employee with limited capacity to stand or walk? Use these device exchange programs to find a used wheelchair for use at the office.
See Ergonomics in the Workplace: A Resource Guide available from JAN.
I'm a person with a disability interested in self-employment and/or home-based employment; where can I get help with AT?
Self-employment and home-based employment services are available through state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies (MRC, MCB) to eligible people with disabilities. Assistance is available to VR clients so long as the self-employment or home-based employment goals are written into the individual's vocational rehabilitation plan. VR clients who need AT for achieving home-based or self-employment goals can get AT and AT services paid for through VR (so long as these costs are written into their VR plan). VR will pay for AT evaluations, training, and equipment costs.
VR at the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission considers AT equipment part of the client's business start-up costs. Start-up goods and services that do not exceed $3,000 and are part of the individual's vocational rehabilitation plan are considered reasonable. AT services can be paid for separately. (See An AT for self-employment story from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.)
Veterans with service-connected disabilities can also pursue funding through the Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Division.
The Massachusetts AT Loan Program is another option for people with disabilities. If a VR program isn't an option for you, a low- or no-interest financial loan may be a good way to get the equipment you need.
- An AT for self-employment story from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
- Examples of workplace AT solutions from the Job Accommodation Network
In September, 2005, Bobby, a 54 year-old woman with a home-based day care business, sought help from VR so she could take classes required for her to keep her day care license and grow her business. Unable to read and write she found the classes "too hard and stressful. I got sick trying to go to those classes. I couldn't stop crying."
Bobby had learned of VR services after seeing the help VR had provided her youngest son, Thomas.* With ADHD and dyslexia, her son had graduated from special education services and was now attending college. Bobby had raised her two boys as a single mother and marveled at the technology that was making such a big difference for her son's schooling. "They didn't have that technology when I was a little girl. And in Mississippi, my mother would not have known about all that. But my son wanted to be an electrical engineer. Ever since he was 5 years old he says he wants to be an electrical engineer." With the help of hardware and software paid for by the MRC, her son had entered Bucknell University the previous fall, following in his brother's footsteps.
Now, she figured, it was her turn. "If you don't reach for something, you'll fall for nothing," she likes to say. She told her VR counselor that her goal was to not only maintain her child care license, but to complete all the professional development classes necessary to earn her Directors II child care certification. Eventually she wanted to own her own childcare center.
MRC referred Bobby to UCP Berkshire's AT Resource Center (today it is one of two MassMATCH AT Regional Centers) for an AT service and equipment needs evaluation. Bobby explained to the counselor that she needed to have everything read to her, which made her feel very dependent. She also explained that taking notes was difficult as writing in general was something she needed help to do. The UCP counselor recommended and demonstrated software that would read to her any text that she scanned (Kurzweil 3000); software to help guide her through her own writing process (Draft:Builder); and software that would record her voice and read back to her what she had written (Dragon Naturally Speaking and Keystone: ScreenSpeaker). A digital recorder would allow her to record classes and go back to consult what was said. Additional hardware recommendations included a laptop, scanner, printer, headset with microphone, and talking calculator. 20 hours of training was also recommended. MRC approved the request.
Today, Bobby says, the AT enables her to work toward her goals, but it also does much more than that: "It's changed, overall, how I feel about myself! I'm not so dependent on other people now." Already she has passed her Lead Teacher, Directors I, and Directors II certifications.
Meanwhile, her son, Thomas, continues working toward his childhood goal. Next fall he enters a Masters program in electrical engineering at MIT. As Bobby likes to say, "A good beginning lasts a lifetime."
*Thomas's name has been changed to protect his privacy.
"Reasonable accommodations" for employees with disabilities do not always involve AT. The Searchable Online Accommodation Resource at the JAN website recommends workplace accommodations of all kinds. It is also a great place to learn about your employee's specific disability. Below are JAN examples of AT solutions for a variety of disabilities and workplaces:
- A janitor with cerebral palsy and balance problems was having problems walking about the facility and safely climbing ladders to change light bulbs. His employer provided him with a motorized cart and a rolling safety ladder.
- A supervisor of a printing company requested information on how to accommodate an employee who has reduced concentration and memory loss due to mental illness. His duties included operating copy machines, maintaining the paper supply, filling orders, and checking the orders for accuracy. He was having difficulty staying on task and remembering what tasks he had completed. A JAN consultant suggested laminating a copy of his daily job tasks and checking items off with an erasable marker. Another suggestion was to use a watch with an alarm set for every hour as a reminder to check on his other job responsibilities.
- A medical technician who was deaf could not hear the buzz of a timer, which was necessary for specific laboratory tests. An indicator light was attached to the equipment.
- A professional whose work required the use of a computer returned to work following a brain injury. As a result of his injury he was unable to read past the midline when reading from left to right. Accommodation suggestions included: changing the margin settings of his word processing program for 80 to 40 to limit right side reading or purchasing software that can split the computer screen left to right and black out the right side, redesigning his workstation to place equipment on the left, and providing task lighting.
- A clerical worker with scoliosis has sitting and standing restrictions. Because the worker is required to work at a desk a majority of the time, the worker was accommodated with an ergonomic workstation evaluation, ergonomic chair, and a sit/stand computer workstation.
- A truck driver with a back impairment was limited in the time he could drive. Accommodations of a suspension seat and a vehicle cushion designed to reduce vibrations allowed the driver to comfortably sit for longer periods of time.
- A journalist with AD/HD experienced sensitivity to visual and auditory distractions. The employer provided the individual with a private, high-wall cubicle workspace in a low-traffic area. The employer added an environmental sound machine to mask office noise.
- A clerical worker with auditory processing disorder [trouble understanding what is said] reported daily to a large firm, where work assignments were handed out daily. To ensure the job assignment is accurate, the employee used a voice activated recorder to record the assignment, the job location, the supervisor's name, and other pertinent information. The employee was able to listen to this information whenever necessary.
- A typist with low vision was having some difficulty distinguishing among certain character keys. She was provided with a glare guard for the computer monitor and large print keyboard labels, which significantly enhanced accuracy.