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Today, around 40 million Americans are over age 65, and that number is expected to continue to increase as baby boomers age. With the aging of the baby-boom generation, the average age for workers will increase, and the likelihood that more employees will be managing a disability rises. Many individuals will continue to work at full production with no accommodations. However, aging may contribute to limitations that can easily and cheaply be accommodated. Age-related limitations can involve a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety, and other cognitive, sensory, and physical limitations.
Aging and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Aging
People with limitations from aging 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 who are aging 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:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- 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?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
Ruth was recently diagnosed with dementia.
She has been having great difficulty performing the essential functions of her position. With information from Ruth’s doctor, her employer determined that she would do better at tasks that are repetitive and routine. Ruth’s employer wants to help her retain her employment by carving out tasks for her from other positions, freeing those employees up to perform some of the tasks Ruth can no longer do. This positive move for Ruth created more specialized job descriptions for the entire department.
An individual with osteoarthritis and walking limitations had difficulty accessing the work-site.
The employer contacted JAN asking for ways to improve access. JAN suggested an accessible parking space, office close to the entrance, and moving the individual closer to the common office equipment area.
A social worker with Type 2 diabetes was experiencing vision loss. The individual requested a reduced workload.
The employer contacted JAN looking for alternatives to lowering productivity standards. JAN suggested stand magnification equipment for reading print materials and screen magnification software for reading from the computer screen.
A bus driver recently diagnosed with sleep apnea asked for a light duty position.
The employer contacted JAN asking for other options. JAN suggested a flexible schedule, temporary reassignment to shorter bus runs, and time off for treatment.
A child care worker with cancer had difficulty walking through a campus environment.
The employee requested the ability to stay in one building. The employer contacted JAN for options. JAN suggested a mobility aid that the individual used solely for job functions.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Aging
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- A Support Person as an Accommodation
- Accommodations for Housekeeping/Janitorial Workers with Motor Impairments
- Accommodations Related to Commuting To and From Work
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- Less Clutter, More Productivity
- Our Aging Workforce: A Look at the Benefits of Job Accommodation