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The disabled as part of a diverse workforce.


As the demographic makeup of America becomes more diverse, the effect of that diversity on the workforce and how it should be managed have become critical issues. Managers are being charged with creating organizations that capitalize on the benefits of workforces diverse in terms of race, national origin, and gender (Cox, 1991, p. 34). A discussion of the diverse workforce should not exclude persons with disabilities - some 43 million persons (Fletcher, 1991). Of that segment, more than two-thirds of adults with disabilities are not working, though more than 70% desire employment (Davila, 1991).

The need to include the disabled in issues concerning workforce diversity has been underscored recently by significant civil rights legislation. The Americans with Disabilities Act, a "sweeping statute viewed as no less than a bill of rights"' (Stein, 1991, p. 6) mandates that employers may not discriminate against persons with disabilities in their human resource decisions. Over and above the many changes in policy and procedure managers may face in complying with the law, they must adopt a positive approach toward the disabled before these persons can be successfully assimilated in the workforce.

Michael J. Lotito, a management and labor relations attorney, states, "It's important to train people with respect to the law but also with respect to attitudes. It's our (unease) that prevents us in large part from integrating people with disabilities into our society" (Woolsey, 1991). A positive attitude regarding potential employees with disabilities can be developed from a simple analogy: A regular function of management is to evaluate the level of skill and experience of an employee and provide the necessary training and resources to enable that person to function productively. Similarly, persons with differing physical or mental abilities can, with appropriate accommodations, also perform positively on the job. In each case, management would be fulfilling its traditional role of evaluation and providing job-related accommodations except the nature of accommodation will reflect the needs of each employee.

Recognizing that all employees need some form of accommodation promotes a view of persons with disabilities as "differently abled" rather than "not abled." With such an approach in mind, management should become familiar with the new law - we extent of its coverage, and its requirement that disabled individuals be considered before new human resources policies and procedures are formulated. This article will review each of these areas of concern and provide suggestions for action.

Legislative Background

Though various types of federal protection had been extended to persons with disabilities for many years, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Representative Charles Vanik (D-OH) failed in their effort in the early 1970s to amend the Civil Rights Act to give persons with physical or mental disabilities comprehensive protection of rights (Percy, 1989, p. 53). However, the right of disabled persons to equal employment opportunity ties was established by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in which sections 503 and 504 prohibit discrimination in employment by federal contractors or entities receiving federal funds (Twomey, 1986, p. 90-91). Even though both the Civil Rights Act and the Rehabilitation Act were later amended to close significant loopholes in protection, it was not until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that comprehensive employment protection was extended to persons with disabilities (Stein, 1991).

ADA, which mandates sweeping change in employment, transportation, services, accommodations, and telecommunications, in both the public and private sectors, passed both houses of Congress with near unanimity (Jones, 1990). Significantly, there was also support for this type of legislation among management. A nationwide survey of 920 top managers, EEO officers, line managers, and small business managers were asked if disabled persons should be covered by civil rights laws against discrimination. A majority in each category agreed that they should, ranging from 56% of top managers to 80% of EEO officers (International Center for the Disabled, 1987). Signed into law by President Bush in 1990, ADA becomes effective for many employers by 1994 (Peak, 199 1).

Title I of ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled in procedures such as selection, advancement, termination, compensation, training, and other terms or conditions of employment. It applies to public and private employers, employers agencies, and labor organizations (Stein, 1991, p. 9). Every business employing 25 or more persons must comply with ADA by July 1992; employers of 15 or more persons must comply by July 1994 (Peak, 1991). Only U.S. government-owned corporations, Indian tribes, and private, non-profit clubs are excluded from the act (Stein, 1991, p. 11). Title I is coordinated and administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with specific remedies based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act including equitable or injunctive relief, reinstatement of persons, and awarding of lost wages (Stein, 1991, p. 14).

Disability Defined

Under its charge, the EEOC formulated the regulations needed to implement and administer the employment provision of Title I, These regulations define disability as:

(1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

(2) a record of such an impairment; or

(3) being regarded as having such an impairment. (Part 1630, 1991, p. 35735)

If an individual is totally unable to perform major life activities (caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working) or is unable to perform them to the extent of the average person, that individual is considered disabled (Woolsey, 1991). The law also covers people who are temporarily disabled, those who are able to overcome a disability through the use of a device, such as a hearing aid, or those with no current disability but a record of having been disabled (Woolsey, 1991). The act covers a person with AIDS or other contagious diseases if there is not a direct threat of spreading the disease (Peak, 1991). A person who is not disabled but is perceived as having a disability (e.g., a burn victim) cannot be disqualified on that basis (Woolsey, 1991). ADA even prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their relationship to disabled persons; for example, an employer cannot refuse to hire a person who is providing care for a disabled relative (Peak, 1991).

In spite of die law's breadth, there are a few exceptions to die definition of disability. Illegal drug use or disorders resulting from that use, homosexuality, sexual deviancy, compulsive gambling, pyromania, and kleptomania are not considered disabilities (Peak, 1991).

Essential Functions

For a disabled individual to be considered qualified for a job, and therefore covered by ADA, he or she must be able to "perform the essential functions of the employment position" (Fletcher, 1991). EEOC regulations define "essential functions" as "the fundamental job duties of the employment position," evidence of which includes the employer's judgment, written job descriptions, time spent performing the function, the consequences of not performing the function, the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, and the work experience of past or current job incumbents Part 1630, 1991, p. 35735). An employer still has the right to ensure that the job is performed, but in specifying "essential," the law requires that if a function is not "essential to a job, it cannot be use to discriminate (Stein, 1991, p. 10). Furthermore, the act requires that an employer must examine those essential job functions in order to determine if a disabled person needs reasonable accommodation in order to perform the work.

Reasonable Accommodation

The appendix to the EEOC's Part 1630 regulations provides an interpretive guide for the job analysis and accommodation requirements of Title I of the ADA:

When an individual's disability creates a barrier to employment opportunities, the ADA requires employers to consider whether reasonable accommodation could remove the barrier.

The ADA thus establishes a process in which the employer must assess a disabled individual's ability to perform the essential functions of the specific job held or desired. While the ADA focuses on eradicating barriers, the ADA does not relieve a disabled employee or applicant from the obligation to perform the essential functions of the job. To the contrary, the ADA is intended to enable disabled persons to compete in the workplace based on the same performance standards and requirements that employers expect of persons who are not disabled.

However, where that individual's functional limitation impedes such job performance, an employer must take steps to reasonably accommodate, and thus help overcome the particular impediment, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship. Such accommodations usually take the form of adjustments to the way a job customarily is performed, or to the work environment itself (Part 1630, 1991, p. 35739).

Specifically, these adjustments could include many activities such as making facilities accessible and usable; restructuring jobs and work schedules; reassignment; modifying equipment; revising applications, policies, and evaluation procedures; and providing assistants or interpreters (Stein, 1991, p. 10). These and the many other variables that should be considered in assessing the need for accommodation fall into six primary areas of concern as outlined by Ledvinka and Scarpello (1991, p. 112-113):

1. Job Access - the location, time, and environment of the job. The employer may need to alter the location, provide alternative scheduling, eliminate physical barriers in the workplace, or construct necessary physical aids to access.

2. Job Design - the tasks involved in performing the job. The employer may need to re-design a job or eliminate unnecessary tasks that cannot be performed by a person with disabilities. Special training, equipment, or aids may need to be provided to assist in job performance.

3. Job Transfer - the employer may reassign employees with disabilities to comparable jobs which do not involve tasks they cannot perform.

4. Qualifications - physical, mental, or experiential prerequisites for entry to a job. Physical examinations, tests, or other measures which are unrelated to the job must be eliminated. Only bona fide occupational qualifications can be considered.

5. Unprejudicial Treatment - an atmosphere of fairness and considerate treatment. The employer must see that decisions are unbiased by non-job-related attitudes regarding disability.

6. Employee Assistance - professional assistance to employees to control or relieve their disabilities. (Ledvinka and Scarpello, 1991, p. 112-113).

Reasonable accommodation does not mean the employer must tolerate lower job performance or place a disabled person in a position where the disability poses a threat to that employee or to others; it does obligate the employer to recognize the potential of persons with disabilities to perform a job (Ledvinka and Scarpello, 1991, p. 114).

While addressing a meeting of the Baltimore College and University Personnel Association, Paul Heylman, a partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm, predicted that the subjectivity of determining the "reasonable accommodation" provision of the Act will launch many lawsuits seeking better definition (Congressional initiatives, 1990, p. 1). This subjectivity can be reduced by using a process indicated by die ADA itself. Focusing on what accommodations would be necessary to overcome any limitations of disability, an "informal interactive process" between the employer and the disabled employee gives the employee a rare opportunity for input regarding job performance and could generate innovative alternatives which could meet the needs of both parties (Stein, 1991, p. 10).

All needs for accommodation may not come from those with obvious physical disabilities. Lotito speculates that many discrimination claims will come from persons who have mental or learning disabilities which are especially difficult to recognize or accommodate (Woolsey, 1991). Indeed, people with learning disabilities are the largest single category of disabled students at most institutions of higher education - some 35 to 50% (Jarrow, 1991). It stands to reason that management must be as prepared to meet the educational or training needs of a potentially large number of learning-disabled individuals as to meet the needs of the physically disabled.

Undue Hardship

The ADA recognizes that accommodating a disabled employee may be an "undue hardship" for an employer - for example, a small business owner's expense of installing an elevator, (Stein, 199 1, p. 11). The Act provides for relieving the employer of the obligation of accommodation if it would be "unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business" (Part 1630, 1991, p. 35744). In an example provided by the EEOC's guidelines, a nightclub employer might not have to provide brighter lighting as an accommodation to a vision-impaired waiter, as that accommodation would destroy the ambience of the club, a fundamental aspect of that business (Part 1630, 1991, p. 35744). hi evaluating undue hardship, the EEOC will consider variables such as: the nature and cost of accommodation; overall financial resources of the involved sites; number of persons employed at those sites; the overall size and resources of the employer; the type of operation and workforce composition; the impact of the accommodation on the site; and die option of reassigning the disabled person to a vacant job (Stein, 1991, p. 11).

Employers should seek undue hardship relief only after carefully evaluating what accommodations may actually be needed. Research indicates that 50% of all disabled persons may not require any accommodation to perform the essential functions of a job; 30% may require accommodations costing $500 or less; only 20% may require more costly accommodations (Woolsey, 1991). Employers, therefore, should not conclude that hiring persons with disabilities will necessarily result in unreasonably costly accommodations. Yet, if undue hardship should occur, ADA provides a flexible and fair mechanism for relief and for exploring alternatives.

Plan for Action

Experts on the Americans with Disabilities Act and in the field of human resources offer a number of suggestions for complying with the act and for becoming pro-active in affording equal employment opportunity to persons with disabilities. Michael Lotito warns against taking a "wait-and-see attitude" in making changes in hiring practices or facilities (Woolsey, 1991). He suggests that management establish an internal task force composed of the company's human resource manager, in-house legal officer, risk manager, compensation manager, safety officer, and operations manager, with guidance provided by outside legal consultants (Woolsey, 1991). The task force would seek to identify and eliminate procedural and physical barriers to the disabled throughout the work environment. In removing such barriers before they become a hindrance to a disabled employee, management reduces the probability of conflict and gives itself more time and flexibility in seeking effective alternatives.

Another consultant, Jonathan Meng, suggests that management should devote particular attention to ensuring that job descriptions do not discriminate against the disabled. He suggests assigning this task to an experienced and objective job analyst rather than relying on incumbents to rewrite their job descriptions with ADA compliance in mind rather than the perceptions of how the job works best from an incumbent's personal bias (Meng, 1991).

The focus of this analysis should be on the results or goals of the job rather than the process. By specifying a particular way to perform a job, employers increase die chance of being charged with discrimination (Meng, 1991). Rewriting job descriptions with a results orientation allows for flexibility in process and thus provides an avenue for accommodating an employee with disabilities. An additional benefit is that changes instituted to accommodate disabled workers may also enable other workers to become more efficient and productive in their positions, leading to an overall improvement in organizational effectiveness (Meng, 1991).

As a result of die job analysis process, Peak stresses that employers should identify all possible accommodations they may be asked to make,evaluate them in terms of "reasonableness," be consistent in offering the ones they are willing to make to persons with disabilities, carefully documenting each action (Peak, 1991). Lotito agrees, and reminds management that the only way to prove that discrimination has not occurred is through clear and detailed documentation (Woolsey, 1991).

Finally, management should develop a procedure for alternative dispute resolution, which ADA encourages for resolving issues related to the provisions of the Act (Stein, 1991, p. 15). The use of such internal administrative proceedings as mediation, arbitration, and mini-trials for resolving disputes is voluntary and cannot prevent individuals from pursuing their rights under the Act's EEOC mechanism (Stein, 1991, p. 15). Yet, having an internal dispute resolution procedure in place may allow the employer and employee to reach a mutual agreement on an issue without having to involve an outside regulatory agency. Using the Act's alternative dispute resolution provisions may well save management time and , money and provide ways to explore creative solutions should a disability-related dispute occur (Stein, 1991, p. 15).

Helpful Resources

A number of resources are available to managers seeking to address issues of disability in the workplace. The EEOC has offices throughout the U.S. and should be considered a primary source of information regarding interpretation of the Act's regulations and guidelines.

For additional information specifically related to ADA, Peak (I 99 1) recommends videos and booklets which are available from:

ADA Resources

National Easter Seal Society

70 East Lake Street

Chicago, IL 60601

For information related to the employment of persons with disabilities, CUPA News (Don't patronize, 1991) recommends contacting:

Mainstream, Inc.

P. O. Box 65183

Washington, DC 20035-5183

For further information on employment of the disabled, Health Resource Center (1991) recommends:

President's Committee on Employment

of People with Disabilities

1331 F Street, NW

Washington, DC 20004-1107

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (1991) offers bibliographies of literature related to disability awareness, accessibility and building design, technological aids, and other disability-related subjects. These are available through:

Reference Section

National Library Service for

the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Library of Congress

Washington, DC 20542

Finally, for general information regarding all aspects of physical or mental disabilities, Health Resource Center (1991) recommends:

National Rehabilitation

Information Center

8455 Colesville Road, Suite 935

Silver Spring, MD 20910


As a significant part of our society, persons with disabilities deserve recognition as part of the divese workforce. This has been underscored by of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The integration of the disabled into mainstream employment depends as much on a change of attitudes as it does on compliance to the law. Just as managers give typical employees training to orient them to a job, disabled employees must receive accommodations relevant to their situation to facilitate their job performance. Managers must analyze all jobs in order to remove bias and identify reasonable accommodations for providing persons with disabilities access to employment. Management should not assume that these accommodations will necessarily be a hardship to the organization. On the contrary, this analysis may result in a refinement of job design which promotes productivity for all employees, thus contributing to organizational effectiveness. Most important, society will benefit from the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream workforce in which all individuals, regardless of ability, are encouraged to use their talents for the productivity of the nation.

Ralph Foster is a Fellow of the Society for Advancement of Management and serves on the SAM Board of Directors. He has over 10 years experience in management and marketing in addition to his university work in developing and marketing continuing education, professional development, technical assistance, and community outreach.


"Congressional initiatives could unleash avalanche of litigation." (1990, June. CUPA News, 17 (12), p. 1 Cox, T. Jr. (1991). [The multicultural organization." Academy of Management Executive, 5 (2), pp. 34-47. Davila, R. R. (1991), March). Conference welcoming remarks [presented by M. Vader]. Proceedings of a conference: Building effective program linkages to establish a coordinated system of lifelong learning for adults with disabilities, 7-8. "Don't patronize disabled job applicants." 1990, June). CUPA News, 17 I;), p. 2. Fletcher, M. (1991, June 10). Discrimination lawsuits: Americans with Disabilities Act to create new exposures." Business Insurance, p. 22. Heath Resource Center. (I 99 1). Career planning and employment strategies for postsecondary students with disabilities. Washington, DC: American Council on Education. International Center for the Disabled. (1987). The ICD survey II: Employing disabled Americans. New York: Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. Jarrow, J. (1991). "Disability issues on campus and the road to ADA." Educational Record, (Winter), pp. 26-31. Jones, E. C. (1990). "ADA: what's next." Worklife, 3 (Summer), pp. 26-27. Ledvinka, J., and Scarpello, V. G. (1991). Federal regulation of personnel and human resource management (2nd ed.). Boston: PWS-Kent Publishing Co. Meng, J. (1991, August). "ADA may force employers to rewrite job descriptions." Personnel, 68, p. 15. National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. (1991). Disability awareness and changing attitudes. Washington, DC: Library of Congress. "Part 1630-Regulations to implement the equal employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1991, July 20)." Federal Register, 58, 144, pp. 35734-35753. Peak, M. H. (1991, August). "Are you ready for ADA?" Personnel, 68, p. 15. Percy, S. L. (I 989). Disability, civil rights, and public policy: The politics of implementation. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press. Stein, R. E. (1991). "A new Bill of Rights' for millions: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990." Arbitration Journal, 46 (June), 6-15. Twomey, D. P. (1986). A concise guide to employment law: EEO & OSHA. Cincinnati: South-western Publishing Co. Woolsey, C. (1991, July 22). "Employers urged to plan for disability acts impact." Business Insurance, p. 22.
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Author:Foster, Ralph S., Jr.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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