Oct. 7, 2010

Help for employees with disabilities

by Paula Van Brocklin

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and human resource services wants ISU faculty and staff to know that accommodating employees with disabilities goes beyond wheelchair accessibility.

An employee may not appear to have a physical disability, but he or she may suffer from a condition that makes it difficult to perform work tasks. Examples include eye impairments from diabetes, physical weakness from chemotherapy or a broken leg that temporarily requires crutches.

"We're not responsible for getting someone to work, but once they're here we need to accommodate their needs if we can," said Kristi Darr, associate director of HRS.

How to get help

Darr recommends that employees who need assistance first talk with their supervisors to see what steps the department can take to solve the problem. For example, an employee simply may need to change work spaces for easier access to office equipment.

Supervisors should then contact HRS, which has a process in place (PDF) to get employees the help they need. First, the employee needs to complete the disability accommodation request form (PDF) and submit it to the HRS employee relations office, 3210 Beardshear. From there, the employee will work with his or her physician to complete a documentation of disability form (PDF) to make sure the employee is medically eligible for workplace accommodation. Assuming accommodation is the appropriate action, HRS works with the employee and his or her supervisor to come up with a solution. Time to complete the process varies, depending on the complexity of the request.

Darr said, most of the time, solutions are fairly simple and inexpensive.

"Sometimes we help people know what options are already out there, like a better door for them to gain access to their building," she said.

Other simple fixes might include removing the number of bulbs from light fixtures for less screen glare for an employee suffering from an eye condition. No matter what the solution, the employee's department picks up the cost.

"We work with the supervisor to balance the cost with getting the right tool for the right situation," Darr said. She added that the process is very collaborative, with HRS working closely with the supervisor and employee.

Ongoing process

Darr said it's important for employees and supervisors to understand that someone's first accommodation request may not be the last. An employee may have a progressive disease, like multiple sclerosis, that requires different tools at different times. Or, an employee with an accommodation may transfer to a position in another building, where a new tool is needed.

"It's not necessarily a one-time visit," Darr said. "It can be an ongoing process."