It's not what you think

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When Jeanie LeMond signed up for a human resource management class, required for the MBA she’s pursuing at Malone College in Canton, she wasn’t surprised that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed by President George Bush in 1990, was discussed.

Some HR professionals laud the ADA as a statute that prohibits discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. Other groups see it as legislation resulting in more regulation, increased litigation and greater expense.

“What I was surprised to learn was that it’s not that difficult or expensive to comply with ADA or to employ the disabled,” says LeMond, marketing manager for Time Warner Cable in Akron.

According to the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 50 percent of workplace accommodations cost less than $50; 31 percent cost nothing.

For example, to prevent computer screen glare for an employee with an eye disorder, an employer purchased an antiglare screen for $39. For a plant worker who had difficulty using the telephone due to a hearing impairment, the company installed a $48 telephone amplifier.

A person in a wheelchair could not use a desk because it was too low; the solution, which cost nothing, was to raise the desk with wooden blocks.

“The four most common disabilities among noninstitutionalized people are arthritis, hypertensive disease, hearing impairment and heart disease,” says John P. “Jack” Harris II, Ph.D., a professor of business administration at Malone College’s School of Business. “Accommodating employees with those disabilities is often just a matter of making small changes.”

People who are blind or in a wheelchair know what they needs, says Harris, who teaches LeMond’s HR management class at Malone. An employer must only ask how to adapt equipment to accommodate their impairments.

While there are costs involved with ADA compliance, the government provides ADA-specific tax refunds for businesses. And employing people with disabilities creates an opportunity to better reflect America at large and, therefore, better positions a company to capitalize on the $796 billion in annual aggregate spending power of people with disabilities.

According to Alan Reich, president of the National Organization on Disability, one of five Americans is disabled. Considering all the advantages, says Harris, employers pondering staffing solutions would do well to recruit people with disabilities — the single largest and most diverse minority in the nation and a major untapped source of high-quality employees. How to reach: Malone College School of Business (330) 471-8247

Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.

A mission for modification

With a mission statement to hire people with disabilities, Sage Computer Services Inc. hasn’t found it that difficult to accommodate its work force of 200 employees, about 30 percent of whom have disabilities.

“Whenever an employee needs special accommodations, the HR department and our CEO review a request for the equipment, with an accompanying medical form,” says Debra Prioletti, chief officer of the Akron data processing firm, a subsidiary of Kent-based Coleman Professional Services.

“In our 14 years of operations, I can’t think of any request we’ve turned down, be it a spring-loaded pair of scissors or a special chair,” she says. “But the most expensive accommodations included ramp installations, larger parking spaces and handicapped-accessible restrooms.”

For accessibility guidelines and standards, contact the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board at (202) 272-5434, or visit its Web site at http://www.access-board.gov.