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People use wheelchairs for a variety of reasons, the most common reason being paralysis from spinal cord injuries. There are several hundred thousand individuals living with a spinal cord injury or spinal dysfunction. Most of these individuals are male. Also, people with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, back conditions, cancer, and other impairments may use wheelchairs to assist with mobility.
Quadriplegia 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 Quadriplegia
People with limitations from quadriplegia 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.
A psychiatrist with quadriplegia was relocated to another office building.
The office building was an older building and was not wheelchair accessible. To accommodate this employee, the employer made renovations which included installing an entrance ramp and modifying the restroom. This enabled the employee to continue working as a successful psychiatrist.
A speech therapist with quadriplegia could not access the workstation that was typically provided.
The employer accommodated the employee with an adjustable workstation that could elevate to permit their wheelchair to fit under the workstation.
A marketing professional with quadriplegia was required to travel to multiple conferences a year.
She had a hard time navigating airports and traveling to the conference center once at her destination. As an accommodation, the employer coordinated her travel arrangements with the airport whom then provide mobility assistance. The employer also hired a work-related travel aid to assist the employee once at the final destination.
A local government employee with quadriplegia requested to be allowed to have her personal attendant come into the workplace to help her eat lunch and take care of personal needs on her breaks.
Because it was obvious that the employee had a disability and needed the requested accommodation, the employer provided the accommodation without requesting any documentation.
An applicant with quadriplegia interviewed for a grant writing position.
The employer asked the applicant how they would perform tasks on the computer. The applicant explained they successfully used an eye controlled device which permitted them to input data with their eye movement. The applicant was offered the position and became a valued employee.
A person who was a quadriplegic was hired as a project manager.
Once on the job they realized they were unable to operate the office phone. As an accommodation, the employer provided a smart phone the employee could mount to their wheelchair and utilize voice commands.