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Accommodation and Compliance Series:
Employees with Arthritis

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Introduction

JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each publication in the series addresses a specific medical condition and provides information about the condition, ADA information, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information.

The Accommodation and Compliance Series is a starting point in the accommodation process and may not address every situation. Accommodations should be made on a case by case basis, considering each employee’s individual limitations and accommodation needs. Employers are encouraged to contact JAN to discuss specific situations in more detail.

For information on assistive technology and other accommodation ideas, visit JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar.

Information about Arthritis

How prevalent is arthritis?

An estimated 50 million adults in the United States have some form of arthritis, and one in five adults report having a diagnosis of arthritis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). By 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans ages 18 years or older are projected to have arthritis, and 25.9% of women and 18.3% men report a diagnosis of arthritis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).

What is arthritis?

Arthritis includes approximately 100 inflammatory and noninflammatory diseases that affect the body's joints, connective tissue, and other supporting tissues such as tendons, cartilage, blood vessels, and internal organs. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and the cause of most types is unknown (Arthritis Foundation, 2011a).

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Swelling in one or more joints, early morning stiffness, recurring pain or tenderness in any joint, obvious redness and warmth in a joint, unexplained weight loss, fever, or weakness combined with joint pain that last more than two weeks are typical symptoms of arthritis. Skin, joint, kidney, lung, heart, nervous system, and blood cell infections may accompany fatigue and difficulty in sleeping. Evaluating arthritis requires an assessment of past history, current symptoms, blood tests, biopsies, and x-rays (Arthritis Foundation, 2011b).

What causes arthritis?

Researchers have identified several risk factors for developing arthritis. For example, the Mayo Clinic identifies the following risk factors: family history, age, sex, previous join injury, and obesity (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

How is arthritis treated?

Treatments for arthritis vary; exercising, medication, natural remedies, nutrition, and surgery may be helpful. There is no best treatment for everyone who has a particular type of arthritis, as each individual may respond differently to different treatments; emphasis is on improving function of joints and relieving pain (Arthritis Foundation, 2011c).

Arthritis and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Is arthritis considered a disability under the ADA?

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet (EEOC Regulations . . ., 2011). Therefore, some people with arthritis will have a disability under the ADA and some will not.

A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment (EEOC Regulations . . . , 2011). For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, visit http://AskJAN.org/corner/vol05iss04.htm.

Accommodating Employees who have Arthritis

Note: People with arthritis may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with arthritis will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas:

Activities of Daily Living:

Fatigue/Weakness:

Fine Motor Impairment:

Gross Motor Impairment:

Photosensitivity:

Skin Irritations:

Sleep Disorder:

Stress:

Temperature Sensitivity:

Situations and Solutions:

A machine operator with arthritis had difficulty turning control switches. The small tabs were replaced with larger cushioned knobs and he was given gloves with non-slip dot gripping. These modifications enabled him to grasp and turn the knobs more effectively and with less force.

A plant manager with arthritis was having difficulty moving throughout her plant to monitor assembly line workers. She was accommodated with a motorized scooter.

A drafter with arthritis in his knees was having difficulty accessing his work-site. He was accommodated with a reserved parking space close to the building, a first floor office, and push pad activated power doors.

A customer service representative with arthritis had difficulty typing for long periods. The individual was accommodated with an ergonomic keyboard and tablet computer.

A social worker with arthritis in her hands was having difficulty reading case summaries, manipulating paperwork, and taking notes. She was accommodated with a page turner, bookholder, writing aids, and the option to dictate reports to her clerical staff.

A receptionist with arthritis in his right hand due to an injury needed to input data into a computer. He was accommodated with a left-handed keyboard, an articulating keyboard tray, speech recognition software, a trackball, and office equipment for a workstation rearrangement.

A laborer in a warehouse was having difficulty standing for long periods due to ankylosing spondylitis. As an accommodation he was transferred to a position within the warehouse that allowed him flexibility to stand, walk, and sit, as he needed. The employer also purchased a heated cushion for his chair, gave him a stand/lean stool, and provided him with a cart.

A vice president with osteoarthritis had difficulty maintaining her stamina during the workday. To accommodate the fatigue, she was given a flexible schedule and allowed to come in later when necessary. Her employer also provided her with a recliner for her office so she could take additional rest breaks throughout the day.

A forklift driver with rheumatoid arthritis had difficulty grasping the steering wheel. The forklift was fitted with a spinner ball to eliminate the need for grasping.

A secretary with rheumatoid arthritis was limited in typing due to pain and stiffness in her hands due to cold temperatures. These symptoms were exacerbated in the winter months but occurred throughout the year due to the below average air temperature in her office. She was accommodated with a space heater, additional window insulation, and speech recognition software.

An insurance clerk with arthritis from systemic lupus erythematosus was experiencing pain in her back, neck, and hands from sitting for long periods of time doing computer work. She was accommodated with speech recognition software, an ergonomic chair, and an adjustable sit/stand workstation.

A library assistant was limited in her ability to stand for long periods. To assist her when standing, the employer purchased a stand/lean stool.

Products:

There are numerous products that can be used to accommodate people with limitations. JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar is designed to let users explore various accommodation options. Many product vendor lists are accessible through this system; however, upon request JAN provides these lists and many more that are not available on the Web site. Contact JAN directly if you have specific accommodation situations, are looking for products, need vendor information, or are seeking a referral.

Resources

References

Updated 03/01/13

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