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Occupation and Industry Series:
Accommodating Educators with Disabilities

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Introduction

JAN’s Occupation and Industry Series is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations for their employees with disabilities and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each publication in the series addresses a specific occupation or industry and provides information about that occupation or industry, ADA issues, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information.

The Occupation and Industry 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 Educators with Disabilities

How many educators with disabilities are working today?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly four million educators, specifically teachers, working in preschool to secondary settings were employed in the United States in 2014. In addition, there were close to 1.3 million professionals who taught in post-secondary settings, ranging from four-year colleges and universities to technology and culinary schools in that same year (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). If disabilities affect one-fifth of all Americans (Census Bureau, 2012), then close to one million educators, from preschool teachers to post-secondary professors and instructors, could be in need of job accommodations.

With the high standards teachers are held to, along with the myriad skills they are required to master and the tasks they accomplish on a daily basis, teachers with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations to effectively perform their jobs.  They may need accommodations related to cognitive, mental health, motor, sensory, and other disabilities.

Educators and the Americans with Disabilities Act

What is 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 medical conditions 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.

Are educators with disabilities required to disclose their disability to their employers?

It depends. The ADA regulates when employers can ask medical questions of job applicants, new hires, and employees. During the application stage, employers are not allowed to ask medical questions and applicants are not required to disclose their disabilities unless they need an accommodation. Employers are required to provide accommodations for job applicants with disabilities to participate in the application process, but only if they know about the disability and need for accommodation (EEOC, 1992).

Once an employer makes a job offer, but before the new hire actually starts working, employers can ask any medical questions they want as long as they ask all new employees in the same job category the same questions. At this stage, the new hire must disclose a disability if asked (EEOC, 1992).  

Once working, employees only need to disclose their disabilities if they want to request an accommodation (EEOC, 1992). 

Can an employer ask educators with disabilities to submit to a medical examination?

Yes, if the need for the medical examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Disability-related inquiries and examinations of employees must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, 2005), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, a medical inquiry or examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity when:

For additional information, visit: Enforcement Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidance-inquiries.html.

Accommodating Educators with Disabilities

Note: Educators 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 disabilities 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 are 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 with a disability been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee with a disability to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding disabilities?

Accommodation Ideas:

Motor/Mobility Impairments
Motor and mobility impairments, as used in this publication, refers to limitations in motor movements such as walking, lifting, sitting, standing, typing, writing, gripping, and maintaining stamina. Many conditions cause motor or mobility impairments, including but not limited to multiple sclerosis, cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury, cumulative trauma disorder, back condition, arthritis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, and heart condition.
Difficulty standing in front of class:
 
  • Permit sit/stand or adjustable height stool
  • Install anti-fatigue mat/carpeting with extra padding
  • Alternate often between sitting and standing
  • Rearrange student seating so the individual may sit but still be viewed easily by all students, e.g., semi-circle
  • Adjust height of chalkboard, whiteboard, or interactive whiteboard
  • Allow use of supportive footwear
  • Install grab bars
  • Permit stand-up wheelchairs/mobility aids
  • Implement Smartboard/projector/interactive whiteboard
Difficulty bending to assist students:
 
  • Have student come to individual when needed or when directed to do so
  • Use teacher's aide and student teachers
  • Use student assistants to help others
  • Allow use of portable stool so that individual can sit next to a student's desk
Difficulty bending to obtain materials or access files:
 
  • Consider automatic shelves and file systems so that materials are brought to appropriate height with a push of a button
  • Place most commonly used materials on easy to access shelves or drawers
  • Raise existing shelving
  • Have student helpers to assist with tasks
  • Sit on a low stool when accessing lower shelves, cabinets, and drawers
  • Provide a reacher to access out-of-reach shelves
  • Consider allowing use of a service animal
Difficulty sitting for long periods of time at desk:
 
  • Provide ergonomic chair so that seat can be adjusted to fit the person using it
  • Allow use of adjustable height desk for the option to sit or stand while working
  • Take frequent rest breaks and alternate between sitting and standing
  • Implement ergonomic principles at workstation
Difficulty moving around room, building, or grounds:
 
  • Ensure appropriate mobility aids are being used (medical condition, work environment, and setting considerations)  
  • Provide accessible path of travel and make sure it is clear at all times
  • Make sure floor surface is appropriate (even and slip-resistant and, if carpeted, no more than 1/2 inch thick, securely attached, and firm padding underneath) 
  • Move workstation close to other work areas, break rooms, and emergency exits    
  • Communicating with e-mail, instant messaging, two-way radios, and cell phones
  • Develop a plan to signal for help in an emergency so that the individual does not have to physically walk elsewhere to get assistance
  • Provide appropriate parking
Difficulty writing on chalkboard:
 
  • Use writing aid to hold chalk
  • Use PC/overhead projector
  • Use flip/pocket chart
Difficulty writing on papers:
 
  • Provide writing aid to assist in holding writing device
  • Allow frequent rest breaks and alternate between tasks
  • Provide writing line guides, clipboard/paper holders, tactile paper with raised lines
  • Convert forms to digital format when possible and allow computer-based data entry
  • Permitting the use of stamps for comments, dates, and signatures when practical
  • Provide an ergonomic workstation 
Difficulty keyboarding:
 
  • Provide alternative keyboards/mouse
  • Provide voice recognition software
  • Utilizing ergonomic keyboard
  • Provide other alternative input: head stick, scanning systems, etc.
  • Provide ergonomic tools and other adaptations
  • Provide ergonomic chair with arm/elbow support
  • Allow frequent rest breaks/alternate between tasks
Sensory Impairments
Sensory impairments, as used in this publication, are any conditions that affect hearing, speech, vision, or respiration.
Difficulty viewing computer screen due to low vision:
 
  • Provide larger-sized monitor or dual monitor system
  • Provide external magnification (fits over existing monitor)
  • Provide screen magnification software
  • Reduce glare via glare guards, blinds on windows, or adjusting lighting in the work area
  • Provide alternative lighting
  • Provide monitor with high resolution and other features as recommended
  • Allow frequent rest breaks for eyes
  • Change font size
  • Provide a keyboard with large print on keys
Difficulty viewing papers due to low vision:
 
  • Provide hand/stand/optical magnifier
  • Provide closed-circuit television system (video magnifier)
  • Provide portable video magnifier for use away from desk
  • Provide information in large print and/or accessible digital format
  • Enlarge information on copier if other means of providing large print are unavailable
  • Provide task lighting
  • Reduce glare in area via overhead lights, windows, etc.
  • Install adjustable light switch or other alternative lighting
  • Change font size
  • Allow frequent rest breaks for eyes
  • Use a document camera and computer projector to project pages onto a wall screen
Difficulty obtaining information from computer screen due to no vision:
 
  • Provide screen reading software
  • Provide Braille display terminal
  • Provide reader (clerical staff, etc.)   
Difficulty viewing papers due to no vision:
 
  • Provide optical character recognition system
  • Use reader/assistant
Difficulty communicating with others due to hearing loss or no hearing:
 
  • Provide assistive listening devices (FM, infrared, power loop)
  • Provide real-time captioning via computer/PC projector
  • Use hearing aids
  • Implement appropriate positioning and lighting to assist with lip reading
  • Reduce background noise and improve acoustics by shutting classroom doors and windows, adding carpet and acoustical wall/ceiling coverings, improving etiquette at meetings, and reducing air rush sound from air and heating ducts
  • Allow written communication
  • Consider use of a sign language interpreter
  • Use electronic mail (via computer)
Difficulty accessing information from videotape/DVD:
 
  • Have equipment capable of providing closed captioning when it is available (new television, decoder) 
  • Use assistive listening devices
  • Provide closed captioning (either in house or by using a service)
Difficulty communicating over the telephone due to hearing impairment:
 
  • Provide text telephone
  • Provide telephone amplification via amplified phone (handset or via in-line or portable amplifiers)
  • Use relay service
  • Use captioned telephone and Cap-tel service
  • Use voice-carry-over phone
  • Use video phone
Difficulty responding to fire and emergency signals:
 
  • Add visual signals to auditory alarms
  • Use vibrating pager
  • Consider allowing use of a service animal
  • Use visual or vibrating alerting devices
  • Have students or another employee alert person that alarm has sounded
  • Use Signtel Intercom System
Difficulty speaking loudly enough for others to hear:
 
  • Provide portable voice amplifier
  • Provide stationary PA system or FM system when portable systems do not provide enough gain
  • Provide or allow use of speech-generating device
  • Use signals with special meaning to reduce amount of speaking needed
  • Use a digital recorder to prerecord frequently used instructions and store on computer (CD or interactive whiteboard) to reduce amount of speaking needed
  • Use supplementary teaching materials such as videos, DVDs, and computer software
  • Use the narration feature in PowerPoint or a similar program to add sound to presentations that will be used frequently
  • Provide a computer with screen reading software so that the individual can type instructions rather than speaking
Allergies/Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
 
Allergies to chalk:
 
  • Use overhead projector
  • Use PC/tablet projector
  • Use dry erase board with low-fume dry erase markers
  • Use large tablet/easel
  • Provide good ventilation/air purification devices
Sensitivities to cleaning agents, smoke, pesticides, perfumes, paint, carpet, and other building furnishings:
 
  • Use air purification device suitable to the space and the irritant to be reduced
  • Avoid the irritant to the extent possible
  • Use non-toxic paint and other cleaning products that are less irritating alternatives
  • Remove, replace, or detoxify existing carpet and select other less toxic building furnishings and supplies
  • Improve ventilation within the worksite
  • Notify in advance of painting or use of pesticides so that alternative work arrangements can be made
  • Educate others concerning the nature of multiple chemical sensitivities and how fragrances can affect the condition
  • Move work area away from such areas as the shop class, chemistry lab, cafeteria, or parking lot
  • Have cleaning, maintenance, and remodeling jobs performed while the building is unoccupied
  • Consider implementing a fragrance policy
  • Provide a dehumidifier to prevent build-up of mold
  • Provide access to a list of ingredients in cleaning products and other chemical agents used on school grounds
Mental Health Impairments
Mental health impairment, as used in this publication, refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders. Mental disorders or illnesses are conditions that impact a person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. (NAMI, n.d.a.). Examples of mental health impairments include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction.
Difficulty handling stress, emotions, and change:
 
  • Have mentor to assist when stress levels become high
  • Provide administrative and coworker support with open communication
  • Allow time off for counseling and stress management support groups
  • Limit number of subjects to be taught (e.g., specialize in one or two subjects)
  • Consider limiting number of students in class if feasible
  • Schedule structured plan period at the same time everyday
  • Assign permanent classroom instead of having to change rooms
  • Use stress management techniques effectively
  • Use soothing music or environmental sound machine to block out background noise when doing paperwork
  • Allow additional time and training to learn new responsibilities
  • Allow telephone calls to emotional supports
  • Schedule meetings with supervisor to discuss workplace issues, production levels, effectiveness of accommodations 
  • Develop strategies to deal with problems before they arise
  • Obtain clear expectations of responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting them
  • Provide sensitivity training to co-workers
  • Provide to-do lists and written instructions
  • Consider providing in-service training on stress management
Difficulty with organization, staying on task, finishing paperwork, managing time:
 
  • Provide organization tools such as electronic schedulers, memo recorders, software organizers, calendars, and grade books
  • Assign permanent classroom instead of having to change rooms
  • Schedule structured plan period at the same time everyday
  • Use color-coded files, papers, books
  • Create detailed lesson plans and outlines
  • Use specialized lesson plan books
  • Consider limiting number of students in class if feasible
  • Limit number of subjects and classes to be taught
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Assign a mentor to assist with determining goals, providing daily guidelines,    reminding of important deadlines
  • Consider providing in-service training on time management
Cognitive Impairments
Cognitive impairment, as used in this publication, refers to disturbances in brain functions such as memory loss, problems with orientation, distractibility, perception problems, and difficulty thinking logically. Cognitive impairment is a syndrome, not a diagnosis. Many conditions can cause cognitive impairment, including multiple sclerosis, depression, alcoholism, Alzheimerís disease, Parkinsonís disease, traumatic brain injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, and stroke.
Difficulty with concentration:
 
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full-spectrum lighting
  • Reduce clutter in the classroom
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions
Memory deficits:
 
  • Allow individual to record meetings
  • Provide printed minutes of each meeting
  • Provide written as well as verbal instructions
  • Allow additional training time for new programs and initiatives
  • Provide reminders of important deadlines via e-mails, memos, and weekly supervision
  • Provide mentor for daily guidance
  • Use notebooks, planners, apps, and/or sticky notes to record information for easy retrieval
  • Provide cues to assist in location of items by using labels, color coding, or bulletin boards

Situations and Solutions:

A post-secondary educator with a cumulative trauma disorder was concerned about the amount of typing in her new job.  She used voice recognition software but thought that it would be too challenging to use in a cubicle setting.  After consulting JAN, she requested a steno system to use with voice recognition software.

A teacher with a knee impairment resulting from an ACL injury had difficulty standing to teach and use a projector.  He was also unable to use a stand/lean stool.  The employer provided a smartboard which allowed the teacher to provide instruction without standing.

An office administrator at a university had mobility issues and used a cane. The elevator had been broken, so the employee was accommodated with telework on a part-time basis and a temporary office set up on the ground floor.

A teacher with an ankle impairment was very limited in her ability to walk up and down stairs. As an accommodation, the school reassigned her to another building that was single-level.  The total cost of the accommodation was $0, and both the employee and employer were very satisfied with the accommodation.

A college professor with lupus requested the accommodation of an office with windows to utilize natural lighting. Because professors with more seniority were offered the offices with windows, the employer wasn’t sure if, because of a union agreement, it would be possible to override the seniority issue.  JAN suggested the use of full-spectrum lighting that has nearly the same effect as the natural lighting and can be found in task lighting, desk and floor lamps, light boxes, and torchieres, as well as replacement bulbs for existing lighting. The college decided to change out the lighting in stages and consult with the employee and her doctor to determine how that could be done effectively. 

A teacher with a hearing impairment moved from a job where inclusion aides were present in her classroom regularly to a job where they were not available. The employer purchased a communication access device to provide the teacher with automated captions of conversations and classroom interactions.

A technician/educator with a school system had low vision and was having difficulty viewing information from a computer screen.  Because the employee benefited from magnification, an inexpensive screen magnification software package was purchased.

A school had teachers and students with dog allergies and a teacher who used a service dog in the same school. The personnel department worked with the affected teachers to figure out where the service dog could go to minimize allergic reactions of coworkers and students.
 
A special education teacher with agoraphobia had been off on leave for a school year.  With her psychiatrist’s help, she determined that she could return to work if the school was within a five-mile radius of her home – the distance she and her doctor considered safe for her to travel.  There were actually six schools within that area.  She asked for an accommodation of being placed in one of those particular schools when a special education position came open.  The teacher was actually given the choice of two schools right off as the district knew those particular jobs were going to be open for the next year.  She accepted the offer on the elementary position, since she felt most comfortable with that age group.

A teacher at an elementary school had been diagnosed with both attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. She had great difficulty getting to work on time.  She had asked for an accommodation of a flexible schedule. On the days that she couldn’t get to school by the time the children arrived to the classroom, she had asked that the principal come into her classroom and get her day started.  The accommodation was denied.  The teacher determined that making lists of what needed to be done at night (getting her clothing, lunch, school items, etc., ready) and using a watch with multiple settings to help her pace herself in the mornings would help her be successful.  She also devised a checklist system so that she did not do multiple checks of locked doors, the oven, the iron, and other things that concerned her.

A middle school teacher with chronic depression asks for the accommodation of leave one afternoon a week for a sixteen-week period so she can attend an intensive out-patient therapy program recommended by her mental health practitioner.  The physician feels this treatment is necessary to prevent a depressive episode requiring further leave. Her employer finds no hardship in providing her with a substitute for those sixteen afternoons and provides the requested accommodation.

A teacher in a large elementary school asked to be relieved of lunch duty as an accommodation, as she was overwhelmed with the noise level in the cafeteria during the lunch period. She was accommodated by being taken off of the lunch duty in the cafeteria and given the “detention” lunch duty, where a small number of children would eat lunch in a classroom under closer supervision that did not permit them to interact with each other.

A small school district’s technology educator/director had difficulty managing his emotions while experiencing the side effects of a prescription change. He asked for an altered schedule (when students weren’t present) and telework. He was accommodated with telework and an altered schedule for three weeks, but needed to be on-site when students were present to diagnose and fix problems during an upcoming period of online achievement testing.

An elementary school principal was undergoing treatment for cancer that left him extremely fatigued.  He asked for a rest period each day as an accommodation.  The school district had no problem with the accommodation request, but they were uncomfortable with his idea of using a roll-away cot in his office.  JAN suggested using a recliner in the corner of the office, so when not in use, it looked and functioned as an ordinary chair, but would provide the principal the ability to put his feet up and recline for rest.  The district was very pleased with the recliner solution.

A college professor who had incurred a traumatic brain injury needed to reschedule departmental meetings and classes she taught to after 11:00 am so that she could use the uninterrupted morning hours to get her planning, studying, and administrative duties done.  There was no cost for this accommodation.

A newly hired teacher with a seizure disorder used a service animal to alert her that a seizure was coming on. The school had a “no animal” policy. The school allowed the teacher to bring her service animal to work and to keep it with her in her classroom. She was also provided breaks to take the service animal outside and given the opportunity to educate coworkers about the use of service animals.

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

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Postsecondary Teachers, Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/home.htm

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2005). Disability-related inquiries and medical examinations of employees under the ADA. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidance-inquiries.html

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1992). A technical assistance manual on the employment provisions (title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://AskJAN.org/links/ADAtam1.html

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.a). Mental Health Conditions. Retrieved February 22, 2016 from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions

U.S. Census Bureau News (2012). Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html

Updated 02/24/16

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