Shifting Perceptions: Accommodations Aren't Always Expensive

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

At Champions, we are often solicited by employers who would like more information about hiring and retaining persons with disabilities in their respective workplaces. When working with various employers we generally like to start by addressing many misconceptions that exist about persons with disabilities. Education and awareness can often go a long way to removing stigma and discrimination and can be part of promoting greater participation of persons with with disabilities in the workplace.

This article is part of an ongoing series of posts on this blog titled Shifting Perceptions. In these posts we will discuss many of the myths and misconceptions which exist and hopefully paint a truer picture of the reality of including persons with disabilities in the workplace.

Today's Myth: Hiring or retaining an employee with a disability will involve considerable expenses for accommodations.

Fact: Most job accommodations are simple and inexpensive.

The reality is that most persons with disabilities don't need accommodations as they know how to self-accommodate. They know how to be work with their disability and have strategies in place to be successful in the workplace. However, in some instances accommodations may be required.

Numerous studies have been done which show that accommodations for persons with disabilities usually do not involve a lot of expense. The most frequently cited study comes from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN, 1990:2000), who found that 80% of accommodations cost less than $500.

Follow up studies from JAN have painted an even clearer picture of the costs involved with accommodations. In 2006, employers who were interviewed said slightly over half (50.5%) of the accommodations they implemented had been at no cost. For those employers who did experience some cost, the median dollar value was $600 - with almost all of these accommodations being a one time cost. The most common accommodation? A change in work schedule, which is an accommodation often extended to every employee.

And the cost for providing accommodations to existing employees? It is almost far less than the costs associated with bringing on new hires. In 1996, researchers found the average administrative cost of hiring and training a new Sears employee ranged between $1,800 to $2,400, as compared to an average cost of $45 for accommodating an existing employee (Blanck, 1996).

In the rare cases where the cost associated with accommodations becomes prohibitive, there are often funding sources from the government which can help cover the costs. For example, in Alberta we have Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES) funding, which covers everything from on the job supports, worksite modifications, vehicle modifications, to assistive technology.

However, there is still plenty of room for more research in this area. Currently, almost all of the research is focused on the cost of retaining current employees. Obviously an employer has more of an imperative to try and keep a current employee - as they already have an investment in them and are also aware of their experience and contributions to the company. They may also be compelled legally to retain their current employees.

For new hires, breaking down these misconceptions about accommodations is huge. But the burden of education comes from both parties in the hiring process. Employers need to be open to the unfamiliar and avoid making judgement calls regarding disabilities, and recruits need to know how to present themselves in a way that allows an employer to focus on their abilities.

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