As a business owner or someone who recruits or hires new employees, it is essential that you know and follows the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. This law applies to companies that have more than 15 employees. The act made it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person who happens to have a disability.
This means that as a company, you can not discriminate in recruiting and hiring. You can also not pay individuals with disabilities less than you would pay another coworker. You can’t fire or lay off employees based on their disability, and you cannot assign unpreferred work to those individuals as well.
This law isn’t new. You know why this law was enacted, and you want to do your part to protect those who are disabled. But maybe you don’t understand what you need to do to prepare your office for disabled workers.
Here are some general ideas on how to make your office accessible for anyone who works there.
First, analyze the tidiness of your workplace. Are there boxes cluttering the floor? Are there heavy items stacked haphazardly on high shelves? Are there extension cords stretched across walkways? Are you not always careful to clear the sidewalks of ice or snow?
These hazards are dangerous for any of your employees, but especially those with vision or mobility issues.
Second, analyze whether a person who uses a wheelchair or crutches could maneuver through the business. Are there tons of stairs that an employee is required to navigate to perform the duties for his or her job? Are the bathrooms wheelchair accessible? Are there ramps into the building? Are there working elevators?
Third, is your phone system ready for a disabled worker? You may need to be prepared to purchase a customized phone for some of your employees if they have difficulty seeing or hearing. You may need to find specialized equipment with large buttons or inputs for headphones.
Is your workspace prepared for service animals to be utilized? Is the office clear of hazards that may affect an animal?
Would your disabled employee be safe in an emergency situation? Are there back-up plans for exiting the building in case of a power failure or equipment breakdown? Are there hearing-impaired paging systems?
How can a person with visual impairment navigate through your hiring and onboarding process? Are there accommodations that allow them to submit a resume and access training materials?
Next, you need to analyze the heights where office equipment and files are held. Would an employee in a wheelchair be able to access the top file cabinet drawer for the required materials? If not, you may need to reorganize the office shelves and filing systems.
Are your work stations compliant with ADA laws? Are they adjustable to suit any sized person? Are they ergonomically designed so as not to cause strain on the body? Can someone in a wheelchair use the desks?
You may need to analyze your computer system. Is it accessible for someone who is visually impaired? Does it have a Braille display, or do you have a screen reading?
Perhaps you also need to provide more ergonomic tracking systems such as trackballs, mouth sticks, or keyboards designed in a different style.
Finally, your workplace may have hired individuals with learning disabilities. If this describes your scenario, you may need to provide some of your training information in the form of pictures rather than words. You may need to provide your workers with a checklist of items to be completed.
This list may seem overwhelming. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be able to accommodate every possible type of disability. In fact, you may not need to be compliant with some of these suggestions until you have a person with disabilities on staff.
Perhaps you are an employee who is suffering from a disability. While you know that you could file for a Social Security Disability claim, you may not understand what that means for your ability to stay employed. You know there are rules about how much income a person can earn while collecting social security disability benefits, but you don’t know if those rules would apply to your situation or not.
For this reason, it is imperative that you consult with a qualified attorney who specializes in disability claims. He or she should walk you through the process and tell you what to expect from future employers if you file for a disability claim.