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Blog: Disabled workers - Making reasonable adjustments

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3rd Sep 2012
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Most people will no doubt be familiar with the concept of 'reasonable adjustments' to accommodate employee disabilities, facilitate a return to work after sickness absence etc.

But often that's when we get a bit stuck for ideas of how to actually do this in practice - in fact we often rely on the person who requires the adjustment to tell us what it is they need, instead of being proactive & creative in our solutions! Plus there's that annoying woolly word, 'reasonable', which can mean different things to different people. So here's a swift look at what is 'reasonable', plus a few (hopefully inspirational) ideas for adjustments!  So, what is reasonable - well, how long is a piece of string?! It depends on a range of factors - what sort of work the person does, how their condition affects their ability to do that work, what resources (time, equipment, people, money) the organisation has, what impact the adjustment will have (both on the person's ability to do the job & the business's ability to deliver its objectives). But you may also want to take into account whether it's an existing employee or a job candidate - it's reasonable to make more of an effort to retain a valued existing employee than to accommodate someone who has just applied for a vacancy, or will only be with you a short time. Essentially it's a cost-benefit analysis. No point in putting in a huge amount of time, effort & cost for something that doesn't actually make a fat lot of difference, or will only have a brief impact. So use your discretion, your commercial acumen & your common sense, as well as your sense of fair play, to make a decision on reasonableness.  I once had a hearing-impaired person apply for a receptionist role - using a telephone was a critical aspect of the job, so I think it's fair to say that having a hearing impairment would have a significant impact here. When applying, the candidate informed us that this difficulty could be overcome by installing a rather pricey state-of-the-art voice-recognition hardware & software, that converted over-the-phone speech to on-screen type. Adjustment ideas Admittedly the firm wasn't short of a few bob, but even so, this was a disproportionate amount of effort & dosh for someone who didn't even work for us! Plus there were other suitable candidates who wouldn't require such a huge investment. We could have installed all the gear, only to find that the person didn't make it through their probationary period, thus getting next to no return on that investment. Had it been a long-standing receptionist with a lot of valuable company & client knowledge, who had suffered a hearing loss, the decision may well have been different.  Accessibility though is not just about whether or not someone is able-bodied. Don't forget learning difficulties, conditions such as dyslexia, mental health issues etc. as well as language barriers etc.  So what does an adjustment look like? Again - how long is that piece of string?! Here is a far-from-exhaustive list, from big deals to quick fixes, from the obvious to the not-so-much: 

  • Changes to working patterns - days, start & finish times, split shifts, reduced hours , more time to complete tasks etc.
  • Changes to individual equipment - providing chairs, workstations, footrests, document holders, PPE, magnifying glasses, manual handling equipment (trolleys etc), big-button phones
  • Changes to work location - moving from upper floors to ground floor, working from home or other venues
  • Changes to premises -  ramps, handrails, stairlifts, shelving levels, seating, sliding doors, rooms for privacy, easy-grip handles & taps, plenty of clutter-free open space, parking spaces, good lighting, high-visibility corners, edges & walkways etc.
  • Written & onscreen information - using larger font sizes, different languages, braille, graphics & pictoral images, contrasting colours, simple plain English
  • Provision of information - Employee Assistance Programme, occupational health service, counselling, transport information, support services.

  So plenty of stuff you can be doing, with a bit of effort & innovation (& not always a shedload of cash.) Don't put the onus completely on the person to come up with adjustment ideas, but don't ignore them either - collaborate with them to find workable solutions. And don't be brow-beaten into providing something that really isn't reasonable for you - even the most litigious person will be struggling to create a valid claim in the face of an objectively justifed business case! 

Tara Daynes is founder and director of consultancy, Tara Daynes HR.

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