Understanding accommodations beyond education

In the world of education, most professionals are familiar with the Americans with Disability Act, Title IX and other laws pertaining to the fair and equitable education of students of all abilities.

Even at the college level, when a student holds more responsibility for seeking these resources, there are specialists and guides to turn to. When transitioning to the workforce, these same guidelines apply, but they might become more difficult to navigate.

“Being your own advocate is a must,” said Marianne Mauss, director of academic resource and disability services at Clarke University. “While the K-12 and college systems are built to help you identify your needs, moving into the workplace puts the responsibility on the individual with the disability. The most helpful thing an employer can do in these situations be open to conversation, encourage their HR department to be creative and forthcoming in their support, and to use the resources available to them.”

For those in the Dubuque area, resources like the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services can assist with understanding what resources are available, both from an employee and employer perspective, with similar resources available in Wisconsin and Illinois.

There also are national organizations like the National Organization on Disability and the Job Accommodation Network that offer online resources. For those with a military background, there are specialized services for veterans through Iowa Workforce, Veterans Affairs and Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation.

When considering accommodations in the workforce, Mauss said the first two factors to consider are the condition and the environment. She described an example of an employee with ADHD.

“Oftentimes, when that person is highly engaged, doing hands-on work, they thrive. If part of their job requires entering information into a system and they find it difficult to focus, that is when accommodation might be needed. It is not that they are not capable, but if they can work with their employer to find a quiet spot that they know they can go to and complete that task, it will benefit everyone. A simple change of environment can address the issue.”

Other examples could include items that are considered more commonplace, like an adjustable desk for those with back pain or mobility issues, or larger monitors for vision impairment. Many workplace accommodations can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and could be offset by federal funds and initiatives for employing those with disabilities. No matter the situation, Mauss encourages employees and employers alike to keep an open mind.

“Disability is broadly defined as any physical or mental impairment that significantly affects a life function like working or learning. It’s a category that we could all enter at any time, be it through a medical emergency or the regular aging process,” Mauss said. “If we can have more open conversations about how to help employees with disabilities create an environment that works for them, we can in turn bring new and creative perspectives to our teams overall.”