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Arthritis is a condition that includes inflammatory and noninflammatory diseases that affect the body's joints and connective tissue. Tendons, cartilage, blood vessels, and internal organs are also often affected. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but two of the more common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid. Pain and swelling are often associated with arthritis.
Arthritis 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 Arthritis
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:
- 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?
- Limiting lifting, reaching, pushing, and pulling by job restructuring
- Extra time to complete paperwork
- Voice to text software
- Ability to dictate notes using a voice recorder and have another staff member input the notes (if inputting the information is a marginal function of your job)
- Grip Aids, to help with holding a stylus
- Reallocating documentation duties, if marginal
- Handwriting Recognition Software
- Using Proper Lifting Techniques
- Reallocating lifting duties, if marginal
- Providing assistance moving objects, to reduce weight
- Organizing items in a way that reduces the need to move or lift items
- Reducing weight to be lifted by separating items into smaller groups
- Reassigning an employee to a modified duty position or modifying duties by removing the lifting duties
- Periodic rest breaks to get up and move around
- Modified break schedule so that you can stretch your legs when needed
- Using break reminder software to remember to get-up and move around
- Alternating between sitting and standing while working by using a sit/stand workstation
- Ergonomic/adjustable office chair
- Work at home, where employee can lie down, sit, stand, move freely
- Providing structured breaks as a physical outlet
- Reducing stress triggers – these strategies will vary according to triggers, but see Dealing with Stress in the Workplace
- Adjusting supervisory methods
- Accessing EAP services for coping with stress
- Providing a private workspace
- Reducing distractions
- Allowing breaks for mental fatigue, including short walks, getting up for a drink of water, and rotating through varied tasks
- Allowing breaks to contact a support person when anxiety is triggered
- Restructuring job so the most difficult tasks are performed at the time of day the employee has the most mental energy or stamina
- Providing/designating uninterrupted time for tasks that require significant concentration
- Telework, Work from Home, Working Remotely
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.
A customer service representative with arthritis had difficulty typing for long periods.
The individual was accommodated with an ergonomic keyboard and tablet computer.
A library assistant was limited in her ability to stand for long periods due to arthritis.
To assist her when standing, the employer purchased a stand/lean stool.
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 veteran with a service connected knee injury developed arthritis in the same knee and was having difficulty working at a kneeling height in his construction job.
His employer purchased a kneeling device that was portable and worked on rough terrain.
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 and by the below-average air temperature in her office.
She was accommodated with a space heater, additional window insulation, and speech recognition software.
A meat trimmer with arthritis had difficulty standing for long periods.
JAN provided information on anti-fatigue matting and stand/lean stools.
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 pharmacist was having difficulties standing for eight hours a day on a tile floor.
This employee was responsible for filling prescriptions for medication. The work area was carpeted using extra padding, which assisted in reducing fatigue and a sit/stand/lean stool was purchased to assist employee when standing. Employee was also permitted to take frequent rest breaks throughout the day. This was possible since the employee cut his lunch hour down to 30 minutes, which provided him with 30 minutes that could be used at other times of the day whenever a break was needed. Also another pharmacist was available to cover his breaks.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Arthritis
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
- Best Practices for Addressing Requests for Ergonomic Chairs
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- My Mom has Rheumatoid Arthritis; My Dad has Sleep Apnea. Can I Call JAN?