4 types of workplace accommodations that can really help

ByChris Simler

Everybody is different. We work best in different ways. People with learning and thinking differences can put supports and tools to good use at work. You might have heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It includes guidelines and requirements for reasonable accommodations

Accommodations are supports that help people do their best work. They might sound intimidating before you know more about them. But an accommodation could be as simple as a change in a meeting room. Or, a flexible schedule on Tuesdays.

"Accommodations don't mean special treatment," says Claire Odom, Disability Inclusion Advocate. "They simply level the playing field and let everyone do their best work."

Plus, "accommodations are generally cheap and easy to implement. And they can have a huge impact on employee performance and satisfaction,” adds Odom.

When employees request an accommodation, it starts a formal process to get them supports. But that doesn't need to happen in order for workplaces to be set up for anyone. Many workplace supports can help all employees — with and without disabilities.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lists a wide range of accommodations on its website. It also gives guidance for the accommodations process.

There are 4 common types of workplace accommodations:

  • Visual communication supports
  • Language and communication supports
  • Environmental supports
  • Structural supports

Different challenges need different tools. People may need to try out different things to see what helps most.

Visual Communication supports

Many people are visual learners. A few visual aids can help everyone be on the same page.

Here are some ideas:

1. Use real photos as often as possible.

2. Visuals to show progress toward goals or metrics.

3. Keep any process steps simple, achievable, and straight to the point.

4. Checklists offered.

5. Use visuals throughout the workplace, across physical and virtual settings.

6. Slideshows in meetings to improve clarity and understanding.

7. Use bulletin boards, dry-erase boards, or other visuals that are easily accessible.

Language and communication supports

These ideas can help streamline work. They can also help with social situations.

Some examples:

1. Daily huddles to keep everyone on the team aligned and focused on goals.

2. Provided mentors.

3. Interpreters and/or job coaches.

4. Background noise to a minimum.

5. Ample time to respond. For example, when a question is asked, allowing a period of silence before the answer.

6. Written agendas and set expectations offered ahead of a meeting or conversation.

Environmental supports

It's important to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe at work. They’ll also be happier and more productive.

Here are some examples that can improve any working environment:

1. Ergonomic workstations, including the flexibility to sit or stand as needed.

2. Padding on the floor for employees who need to stand frequently.

3. Lighting that is bright enough to do work, and installed shades so it’s not too distracting.

4. Earplugs or headphones.

5. Ramps and accessible bathrooms.

6. Gloves, masks, social distancing, and other precautions to protect against COVID-19.

7. Remote work as an option.

8. Safety signs in the workplace, including hand washing diagrams in the bathrooms.

9. Information from those signs shared via email or text, so every employee can access it.

Structural supports 

Structural accommodations can improve any process. They are designed to help everyone reach their goals so business can thrive.

Here are some examples of structural tools that can help support everyone:

1. Flexibility in break times. For example, the option to turn a 15-minute break into three five-minute breaks.

2. Goals and metrics transparency, and also examples of how to achieve them.

3. Visual demonstration of beginnings and endings for meetings and processes.

4. Daily schedules, and/or ideas offered on how to effectively structure open work time to be more productive.

5. Trainings and other important information offered in multiple formats, such as video, text-based, in-person meetings, etc. 

6. Meeting format accessibility. For example, videos should have transcripts.

These types of accommodations are common. But they may not count as "reasonable" in every case. You can find guidance for specific situations on the ADA and the EEOC websites.

Companies can put these accommodations into place without a formal request. And when they do, everyone can benefit from them.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Chris Simler is a workplace consultant with more than 20 years of experience managing and leading disability inclusion initiatives.