In the minds of some, the term “accommodation” may have a negative connotation due to the fact that it implies a weakness that must be compensated for -- it assumes there is a “right” way of doing things and when you can’t do it that one way, an adjustment must be made for you to get it done.
But the fact is, most things in life are far from black and white. Innovation requires adaptation, and is fundamental to growth and progress. Science has proven that our brains are complex and intricate, and that individuals are just that, individual. A one-size-fits-all approach does not make sense in life or in the business world. Rather, the notion of embracing unique characteristics and giftings has given rise to the idea that accommodations ensure a neuro-diverse workplace, which not only promotes the individual’s dignity and self-worth, but translates into higher job satisfaction amongst all employees in the workforce.
Thus, accommodations are not only necessary but an essential ingredient to any healthy organization committed to encouraging and nurturing individual differences, knowing that it is in a truly diverse environment that mutual growth can take place.
The federal government understood this dynamic when it enacted the Americans With Disabilities Act, mandating that employers “accommodate” individuals with disabilities in their hiring process as well as in the workplace. In fact, the first line of the legislation states that “physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to fully participate in all aspects of society.” This goal of inclusion requires accommodations so that “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” can be achieved for these individuals. Accommodations are the means to that end.
Yet, the questions that naturally come to mind are: What do these “accommodations” look like in an employment setting? How far must an employer go to “accommodate” an individual with a disability? And even more, what are the costs associated with making such accommodations?
Many employers have an exaggerated notion of their perceived responsibility under the law. In fact, the law requires employers to make “reasonable” accommodations, those that adjust such things as work schedules, job structuring, equipment, and/or evaluation or testing. Although the definition of “reasonableness” may vary, the law specifically excludes accommodations that require an “undue hardship” to the employer. Thus, an employer is not expected to do things that would require a significant difficulty or expense.
Granted, “undue hardship” is a balancing act, based on factors such as the size of the employer, its financial resources, and the impact it will have on the nature of the business. Yet, employers are not expected to lower the quality or production standards of the company. Nor are they required to change the essential functions of the job for that individual. And even further, preference toward a candidate with a disability is not required (unless mandated by other legislation such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act). Employers are not required to be super-heroes, but practice common-sense in adjusting requirements based on individuals’ needs and abilities.
Accommodations are not a burden to bear, but a means to improvement and social well-being. Change always comes at some cost, but without change, we choose complacency and stagnancy. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking” (Albert Einstein). We must change how we perceive accommodations in order to grow in our businesses and in society at large, to bring equality for all people, including those on the autism spectrum.
For more discussion on what “reasonable accommodations” look like in the workplace, stay tuned for the next blog in this series.