IMPROVING WORKPLACE ACCOMMODATIONS: INITIAL RESULTS OF A POLICY DELPHI STUDY Nathan W. Moon [e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org] Paul M.A. Baker, Ph.D., AICP [e-mail: email@example.com] Workplace Accommodations RERC and Center for Advanced Communications Policy Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, Georgia
ABSTRACT SENTENCE We present the initial findings of a policy Delphi study on workplace accommodations, focusing on identifying policy options to address key issues and goals. INTRODUCTION Despite passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, significant social, economic, technological, and policy barriers exist to the full integration of people with disabilities into the work environment. In a recent proclamation for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the President of the United States observed, “Americans with disabilities are active and contributing members of our society and they must have the opportunity to develop the skills they need to compete and obtain jobs in the 21st century workforce.”  Despite this policy position, the U.S. Census Bureau in 2002 found a 14.1 percent unemployment rate among persons with disabilities, as compared to an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent for people without disabilities.  While policymakers have attempted to reduce barriers to employment for people with disabilities, the population of employed people with disabilities remains persistently lower than average. The implementation of appropriate workplace accommodations is a key approach used to achieve the goal of equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities. Successful workplace accommodations incorporate an array of solutions ranging from assistive devices and universally-designed technologies, to programmatic solutions such as employment activities and process approaches, to policy solutions at the employer and governmental levels. This paper presents key preliminary results of ongoing research conducted by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations (Workplace Accommodations RERC) as part of efforts to develop policy initiatives for addressing the key issues critical to the implementation of successful workplace accommodations. A review of pertinent literature was conducted to identify workplace accommodation and employment issues associated with the employment of people with disabilities in order to lay the groundwork for developing a conceptual framework to guide policy change. The framework informed research undertaken utilizing the policy Delphi method, a multiround, iterative polling instrument used to assess stakeholder perceptions on key issues
and intervention options regarding workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities. Participants in the Delphi were asked to provide input on four categories of questions. Forecasts are items that examine the feasibility of broad social, economic, regulatory, and technological trends that may affect the future of workplace accommodations. Issues items elicit the input of respondents on the importance of perceived and identified barriers and opportunities related to workplace accommodations. They are clustered into broad categories: 1) awareness, 2) policy/regulatory, 3) economic, 4) technological, and 5) social. Goals concentrate on the desirability of particular outcomes in addressing pertinent issues. Finally, Options items ask respondents to consider the feasibility of initiatives and policy interventions to address issues deemed important and achieve goals determined to be desirable. While each of these four categories (Forecasts, Issues, Goals, and Options) is relatively autonomous, it is also accurate to note that forecasts inform issues; issues inform goals; and goals inform options. In this paper, we report on formative findings regarding issues, goals, and options from Rounds 1 and 2 of a three-part study. POLICY ISSUES The following issues were confirmed as being highly important to 1) increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, in general, and 2) improving workplace accommodations for already employed people with disabilities: Lack among stakeholders of a common understanding of workplace accommodations – 89 percent of respondents believed that employers were somewhat unclear as to what constitutes a workplace accommodation, while 91 percent believed both employers and employees lack awareness of the types of accommodations that may be implemented. Unawareness among employers regarding the range of options and costs – 92 percent of participants stated that employer misperception about the cost of accommodations was an important issue. Importance of promoting a workplace receptive to employees with disabilities – 85 percent of respondents identified employer and co-worker underestimation of the capability of employees with a disability to perform a job as an important issue. Improvement of emergency egress for employees with disabilities – 92 percent of stakeholders noted that workplace emergency and egress procedures do not take into account the limitations of people with disabilities sufficiently. Ambivalence with regard to the importance of telework options – Participating stakeholders seemed split on the issue of telework as a reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. While one bloc of respondents argued for its potential as a means to bring more individuals into the workforce, another bloc noted that it did not necessarily achieve the goal of inclusion of people with disabilities into the workplace. The aging of the workforce into disability appears to be a complex and multidimensional problem.
Multiple views on the varied role of policy options (e.g., market-oriented approaches vs. regulation).
POLICY GOALS In response to the findings regarding issues, the policy Delphi proposed a number of goals for participating stakeholders to consider. Given that many of the most pressing issues related to awareness, it comes as little surprise that awareness goals were among the best received. A goal to promote better understanding of barriers to increased employment of persons with disabilities from the employer side was considered most desirable. Almost as important a concern to the respondents was the development of examples and models for corporate implementation of accommodations and hiring of persons with disabilities. Another goal receiving a majority of support from the Delphi panel was a proposal to improve the accuracy of existing data sets regarding people with disabilities and workplace accommodations, in the hope that doing so would allow for a greater understanding of the current state of workplace accommodations. Other important goals included: Development and dissemination of resources to educate employers about the economic incentives associated with hiring people with disabilities. Revision of existing telecommunications regulations to include access by people with disabilities to newer technologies, especially wireless ones. Development of new state or federal initiatives to help employers offset the cost of providing workplace accommodations. Public awareness and information campaigns encouraging job recruitment websites to consider the needs of people with disabilities. Development of new technologies or adapting of existing ones (e.g., cellular and SMS text communication devices) to address the needs of employees with disabilities (e.g., receiving message details, egress) in case of an emergency at the workplace. POLICY OPTIONS AND INITIATIVES Stakeholders tended to agree on issues and goals, but they often differed on their implementation. Drawing on the initial policy assessment framework and the findings from Round 1 results, the Delphi study probed preliminary policy options/incentives that offer the potential to achieve workplace accommodations goals. Final policy options will be developed following completion of the final phase of the research. Potential options exist in all four areas issues areas previously identified, but the following areas generated the greatest level of support: Awareness-related option – Involvement of people with disabilities and disability organizations in the emergency plan development process. Awareness-related option – Increased outreach efforts to encourage corporate awareness about information technology accommodation resources like the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Economic-related option – The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in the Department of Labor, in cooperation with other federal agencies and state
vocational rehabilitation agencies, should undertake campaigns to educate employers about the potential benefits of providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, as well as to encourage state and federal resources to pay for the accommodations. Economic-related option – The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) should provide additional funding for research and development related to employment and workplace accommodations.
The final, ongoing round of the policy Delphi on workplace accommodations, taking into consideration the issues and objectives identified, will focus on developing specific options for consideration.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This is a publication of The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations for People with Disabilities, sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education under grant numbers H133E020720 and H133E070026. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education
REFERENCES  Bush, George W. (2004). National Disability Awareness Month, 2004. Proclamation. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/10/ 200410213.html  U.S. Bureau of the Census (2002). Current Population Survey.