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People use wheelchairs for a variety of reasons, the most common reason being paralysis from spinal cord injuries. Individuals who have had a stroke, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, polio, cerebral palsy, back condition, cancer, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, and dementia may also have limitations that result in paraplegia. Paraplegia is a condition that results from paralysis in the legs and potentially the trunk.
Paraplegia 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 Paraplegia
People with paraplegia 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 paraplegia 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.
A car salesman became a paraplegic following a car accident.
Upon returning to work, he realized he could not exit the building quick enough to help customers. After having a discussion with the employer, they jointly decided that installing an automatic door would be the best solution.
A florist with paraplegia needed a table top that permitted her wheelchair to fit under.
The employer purchased her an accessible workstation which enabled her to arrange flowers efficiently.
An applicant with paraplegia interviewed for a taxi driver position.
During the interview, the employer asked about possible accommodation options the applicant would need. The applicant explained he could operate a vehicle with modifications, which included hand controls. The employer offered them the position and had a local driver rehabilitation specialist install the equipment.
A motivational speaker with paraplegia was required to travel and speak to large audiences across the country.
The employer purchased a standup wheelchair so the speaker could stand behind a podium during their speeches.
A county commissioner with paraplegia was required to attend monthly commission meetings.
The meetings were held in an inaccessible historic building. As an accommodation, the commission permitted the county commissioner to Skype into the meetings. This enabled them to actively participate and contribute to the meeting.
A chemistry professor used a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury.
The existing chemistry lab was designed to accommodate students at a standing height. The college could not remodel the entire lab so purchased an elevating wheelchair.