Witness to a Workshop on Reasonable Accommodation


There are no "disabled people."
Every person will
find some situations inaccessible and therefore disabling. Due to certain design conventions, people with certain characteristics experience this more
frequently than others.

Employment Equity legislation states that employers shall implement employment equity by, among other things, "making such reasonable accommodation as will ensure that persons in designated groups achieve a degree of representation." One area where this concept surfaces frequently and where there seems to be significant perception of difficulty is in the accommodation of persons with disabilities. I recently attended an employment equity seminar for employers where Kathryn Woodcock Webb, Vice President of Hospital Services at Centenary Hospital in Ontario, gave a presentation on the issues in reasonable accommodation. She has graciously allowed me to use some of her ideas and materials to describe what was a very enlightening approach.

Kathryn began by asking everyone to stand and then read to us a long list of descriptive phrases such as non-white race, divorced, under 162 cm (5'4") tall, over 184 cm (6') tall, wheelchair, hard of hearing, allergies, respiratory disorder, speech impediment, born outside of Canada, pregnant, blind, orthopedic footwear, female, over age 55. We were to sit down when we heard something that related to us and, in a very short time, the whole room was sitting. The exercise was a very effective way of demonstrating that we all have "disabilities" at one time or another in our lives, and that employers continually make choices about reasonable accommodation of the abilities and disabilities of people already in their workforce.

Kathryn then went on to describe how to think about modifying current practices to accommodate a wider range of people. First we looked at some excuses used to eliminate candidates for employment and examined them to determine their validity. The following chart indicates an evaluation of some common employer objections.

  • a distraction in the workplace
  • other employees won't like them
  • chat and gossip among themselves
  • don't project the right company image
  • not interested in learning the job
  • characteristically lazy
  • won't be able to do work
  • not facilties in existence
  • won't be able to get to work
Accommodation may be needed to resolve these concerns

Clearly, before any employment choices are made, a systematic analysis must be undertaken to establish bona fide occupational requirements for selecting among the applicants and to identify accommodations necessary for certain applicants or groups prior to determining which accommodations are "reasonable"(1).

Subsequently, a comparison must be made to identify potential or actual mismatches between individual tasks and either entire groups or individual candidates. Next, engineering or administrative solutions must be identified that would be necessary to either reduce the situation demands so they do not exceed the person's abilities or increase the person's ability through training.

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