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The deed makes the difference: when people possess the skills you want, accommodating their needs is a smart investment.

The Deed Makes the Difference

One of many trends in association management in the 1990s is an escalating worker shortage, a labor crunch fueled by the declining birth rate in the 1960s and early 1970s that translates into fewer young people entering the job market today. At the same time, ASAE's publication The Association Management Profession in the 1990s: Trends, Implications, and Dilemmas estimates that close to 6 million jobs in highly skilled executive, professional, and technical occupations will open up in the next decade.

Yet even in the face of the growing worker shortage, two thirds of the 43 million American adults with disabilities are chronically unemployed; that's more than 28 million potential employees. Considering the growing public and private support for employers hiring individuals who have disabilities, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) calls attention to a significant and practical recruiting opportunity.

Before employers can take advantage of this much untapped human resource pool, however, they will need to remove the physical barriers that stand between those with disabilities and the positions they are qualified to fill.


Efforts to make the workplace readily accessible to individuals who have disabilities should begin with an accessibility survey at existing facilities. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to form an accessibility team that includes individuals who have disabilities and trained accessibility surveyors.

Local nonprofit rehabilitation agencies, such as Goodwill Industries, Bethesda, Maryland, can help you find trained accessibility surveyors. Most states have associations of rehabilitation agencies you can call for assistance in identifying local programs.

Once an accessibility report is completed, modifications can be designed and costed out by the organization's physical plant manager and/or an accessibility-conscious architect. Remember, the simplest and least costly alterations are often most effective.

Accessibility of new facilities should be addressed at the design stage of development. A Syracuse University study found that the cost of accessibility features, when included in new construction, add less than 1 percent to the total cost, a figure that should asuage any fear that the cost of accommodations required by the ADA will put an organization out of business.

Cost considerations

Before the ADA passed, 87 percent of those small businesses polled by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Denver, said they opposed the bill (reported in the Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 1989). Yet according to a 1987 Harris Poll, 74 percent of companies with experience in making accommodations regard such adjustments as either "not too expensive" or "not expensive at all."

An analysis of more than 10,000 individual employees who have disabilities, conducted by the Job Accommodations Network (JAN) of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD), Washington, D.C., indicated that 31 percent of the accommodations made for these individuals required no additional expense and 50 percent of the accommodations cost less than $50.

Suppose, for example, your association has a vacancy for a secretary or receptionist. What if tomorrow morning a man or woman in a wheelchair came in and applied for the job? Upon reviewing the person's qualifications, you realize this is an excellent candidate for the job. But in trying to set the applicant up for a typing test, you discover his or her wheelchair won't fit under the desk. What do you do? Send a qualified individual away?

How about placing wood blocks under the desk legs at a cost of $10? Why not buy hardwood blocks to match the rest of the furniture at a cost of $100?

Are you thinking, "That's nice, but it's the exception"? It's not. Plenty of small businesses have made low-cost accommodations.

Alliance, Inc., Baltimore, for example, hired a micrographics quality control person who has hemiplegia, a paralysis. According to Cristina Mickley, coordinator of the alliance's rehabilitation engineering department, the new employee's limited mobility resulted in poor work flow and potential damage to the microfiche being handled. An accommodation, consisting of a $1 piece of acrylic bent and glued to form an ergonomic fiche holder, eliminated the obstacle and increased the worker's productivity by 50 percent. The total cost of staff time for situation evaluation and development of the ergonomic fiche holder was approximately $225.

Another small firm, Foot Management, Inc., Pittsville, Maryland, reports that most of its 15 employees have hearing impairments. Accommodations have been inexpensive and include visual indicators for the fire alarm system ($25) and provision of a telecommunication device for individuals who are deaf ($600). The company also paid for four of its employees to receive training in sign language at a cost of $25 each. (Examples taken from The Americans With Disabilities Act, Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1990.)

Associations can help themselves and their members address the question of accommodation costs by * helping develop local resource teams, including individuals who have disabilities, an attorney specializing in employment issues, an accessibility-conscious architect, and local government and community agency representatives; * linking with other organizations to co-invest in support staff; for example, two organizations each pay half the salary of a full-time employee assistance program (EAP) staff person who serves both organizations; and * helping to identify community service agencies that provide ADA information and EAP support under a contractual agreement (see sidebar, "Help Is Available").

Tax help

Financial support is also available - in the form of several tax regulations - for small organizations that make accommodations for employees with disabilities. Congress passed the Disabled Access Credit (Section 44 of the Internal Revenue Code) as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990.

The Disabled Access Credit provides a tax credit equal to "50 percent of so much of the eligible access expenditures for the taxable year as exceed $250 but does not exceed $10,250," for a maximum credit of $5,000 per taxable year. Beginning in 1991, the credit can be taken for each taxable year and carried forward for up to 15 years.

Eligible access expenditures include those incurred by eligible small businesses in complying with the "reasonable accommodations" requirements of the ADA. Examples are expenditures to remove communication, physical, or transportation barriers; provision of qualified interpreters, readers, or taped texts; acquisition or modification of equipment, and so forth. Expenses related to new construction are not eligible.

Employers eligible for the credit include those with either gross receipts for the preceding tax year of $1 million or less or with 30 or fewer full-time employees during the preceding taxable year; however, at this writing the Internal Revenue Service has not ruled on nonprofits' eligibility.

Also, as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, Congress extended through Dec. 31, 1991, the Targeted Job Tax Credit, which provides employers with a credit against tax liability for hiring people from nine groups, including, in many cases, those who have disabilities. The credit is equal to 40 percent of the employee's first-year wages up to $6,000, for a maximum credit of $2,400 per eligible individual.

Employers must request certification from their state employment office for each individual on or before the first day of employment and may take the credit after the new employee has worked for at least 90 days or 120 hours.

The Internal Revenue Code also allows all businesses a tax deduction for expenses related to removal of architectural and transportation barriers. Beginning in 1991, businesses may deduct up to $15,000 for each taxable year.

Further assistance on the Disabled Access Credit, Targeted Job Tax Credit, or tax deduction can be obtained by calling any community agency that provides support to employers who hire individuals with disabilities.

Plenty of information and assistance exists for employers who want to get a jump on complying with the ADA. The first step is to hire qualified people, regardless of disability.

Robert L. Hoffmann is executive director/CEO of the Maryland Rehabilitation and Employment Association, Inc., Columbia, Maryland.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Hofmann, Robert L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Understanding the ADA.
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