What do tennis balls, a headlamp, and curtains all have in common? They can all be used as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. But wait — how can that be? Aren’t all accommodations expensive and high tech? In actuality, many accommodation solutions can be considered “low tech,” and according to an ongoing study conducted by JAN since 2004, employers report that a 58 percent of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.
A common misconception about accommodations is that products and equipment that have been developed to assist individuals with disabilities with various activities, including those that are work related, are expensive, high-end electronics and technology. It is not uncommon for employers to ask about a high cost device before considering low cost/low tech options or simple modifications that work just as well.
It is important to note that some types of assistive technology (AT) that are more expensive may be necessary. The type of equipment, product, or AT that an employee with a disability needs (or has requested) will always be a case-by-case determination. But one thing for employers to consider is that, in some cases, something as simple as putting curtains up to reduce glare on a computer monitor for an employee with migraine headaches is much less complicated than searching for the best anti-glare computer monitor on the market.
Here are a few real-life JAN examples of low cost accommodation solutions:
A clerical worker who stamped paperwork for several hours a day was limited in pinching and gripping due to carpal tunnel syndrome. The individual was accommodated with adapted stamp handles. Anti-vibration wrap was placed around the stamp handles. In addition, tennis balls were cut and placed over the wrapped handles to eliminate fine motor pinching and gripping.
A production worker with intellectual or cognitive impairment and cerebral palsy had difficulty grasping a plastic bottle to accurately apply an adhesive label. JAN suggested making a wooden jig to hold the bottle while the employee applies the label. Approximate accommodation cost was under $50.
A grocery stock person with autism could not remember to wear all parts of his uniform. JAN suggested taking a picture of the employee in full uniform, giving him the picture, and allowing him to use the picture as reference when preparing for work. Approximate accommodation cost is $5.
A custodian with low vision in a public school setting was having difficulty viewing the carpeted area he was vacuuming. A lighting system was mounted on the custodian’s industrial vacuum cleaner, and the custodian was provided a headlamp.
As these examples show, often accommodations are low cost, low tech, and can be implemented fairly easily. Workspace modifications can be made at little to no cost and there are all kinds of inexpensive devices on the market. Accommodations might also include a specially designed or modified product, but customization doesn’t always translate into high cost. Removing the legs of a computer desk can be a very low cost custom modification for an individual of short stature.
JAN consultants can provide individualized case-by-case assistance regarding various accommodation options; information on products; organizational referrals; and locating specific vendors of a wide variety of low cost and low tech accommodations.
For onsite assistance, rehabilitation professionals and assistive technology specialists can be great resources for employers. These individuals have been specifically trained to perform assessments that identify the individual’s needs; strengths and abilities; environmental consideration; tasks that are problematic; and the tools necessary for success.
So remember, before jumping to the conclusion that an accommodation will break the bank, low cost accommodations do exist! If you are wanting to learn more about the JAN study and the various findings related to the costs and benefits of providing accommodations in the workplace, you can review the JAN Accommodation and Compliance Series Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact.