Knowing that you have a disability is one thing, but getting the help you need to succeed at work is an altogether different part of the puzzle. Each person might need something different, and it can be exhausting and time-consuming for each individual to have to explain this to multiple colleagues in the workplace. Some employees will know exactly what they need to mitigate their disability, but many will not – there are so many different solutions out there and the pace of technology moves so fast, that it’s virtually impossible for anyone outside of workplace accessibility professionals to have a grasp of all the available options.
Having a process that individuals can work through with their employer makes it easier for the person with a disability to explain what they need, and for the employer to then be able to identify what’s possible, and put into place solutions that enable the employee to perform at their best. These solutions might include technology, equipment, or a change to an employee’s role, responsibilities, working hours, or place of work. For large organizations, consultancies are available that can provide comprehensive end-to-end assessment, equipment sourcing, and advice. However, since this toolkit is designed for the whole of the Scholarly Communications community, we’ll focus on solutions that are available to anybody.
In the first instance, it’s definitely worth asking your manager or HR contact whether your workplace has an existing process and/or policy. It’s obviously much easier to follow an existing process, rather than have to develop one yourself.
However, if you determine that this does not yet exist, then a Disability Passport (sometimes called a Tailored Adjustment Plan) is a good option. This is a document that is owned by the employee, focusing on accommodations an individual needs to do their job. Examples can be found here, here and here. A Disability Passport provides a framework for employees and staff to have a conversation about which non-standard working arrangements would help them to do their job most effectively. This most often relates to disability, but could also relate to (for example) caregiving responsibilities. The standard set of questions also mitigates the awkwardness of many conversations around disability, by focusing on the solutions rather than the problems. These should be regarded as ‘living documents’ that can be amended over time (as an individual’s needs change) and allow a new manager to see what adjustments are in place currently, meaning that the employee doesn’t have to ‘start again’ every time they change managers. This could help to a) improve transition when someone new takes over a team and b) improve career development within an organization for people with disabilities.
The conversation around the Disability Passport should specifically address the tasks involved in the job, the systems that will be used, the major activities, etc. The idea is to, as far as possible, identify the challenges that the new hire will face, and talk through any ideas about how to mitigate these. Sometimes the employee and the manager will be unsure what the best solution is, in which case further research will be required – whether via an expert third party (e.g., RNIB in the UK), or internally – to assess and recommend a solution. In all cases, it should not be left to the employee to find a solution on their own – the employer should partner with them, ideally presenting them with several options from which to choose, as well as respecting the employee’s opinion as to the best way forward.
From an organizational perspective, Disability Passports are also helpful for two main reasons:
They ensure that organizations have a record of what adjustments an employee has (so these are not ‘lost’ if a manager leaves, and/or does not depend on the whim of an individual line manager). They also ensure that individuals don’t fall through the cracks by providing an official opportunity ‘moment’ for a conversation around disability. This also helps line managers themselves to structure these conversations effectively, ensuring that the focus remains on the help needed at work, rather than on the disability itself.
Through keeping track of the what workplace accommodations are being offered, an organization can start to systematize the adjustments it offers (increasing an organization’s overall knowledge about which at solutions can help solve particular problems).
Organizations take a variety of different approaches regarding how to store these documents, as they include sensitive information; either an employee can own this themselves and choose who to share the form with, or the form could be stored in a central location (e.g., HR portal) where only certain individuals can access it – typically the employee themselves, their manager, and an agreed HR contact.
Disability Passports can be used by anyone at any stage, but typically they are most effective when someone starts a new job (whether a new hire or someone transitioning internally), as this is typically the stage at which disability inclusion falls down. Typically, the problems are:
The employee and manager are not clear about the tasks involved in the job, and what adjustments would be needed in order to allow an employee with a disability to perform the role well
It hasn’t been made clear to the manager what adjustments the employee with a disability needs
The manager does not know how to have an effective conversation about disability / health condition with their team member
While definitions and employer obligations may differ between countries, the Americans with Disabilities Act website gives an overview of what a workplace accommodation is, and what you can reasonably expect from your employer.
Here is some useful guidance on how to create a robust and reasonable accommodations process if you are an organization: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1017/pages/how-to-create-a-robust-reasonable-accommodation-process.aspx