According to a factsheet published by the US Department of Labor, one of the common myths prevalent among employers is that providing accommodation for workers with disabilities is expensive. The factsheet goes on to say that in reality, the majority of employees with disabilities do not require accommodation to carry out their job, and for the ones who do, the costs involved are often minimal.
The typical cost of accommodation is $500
A 2020 survey report prepared by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy showed that 56% of workplace accommodations for employees cost absolutely nothing to execute. The remaining ones typically cost just $500. Importantly, the employers enjoy tax incentives which are made available to support their costs of accommodations and for making their business more accessible.
The JAN survey covered 3,369 employers, out of which 1,029 companies were able to provide data related to their actual costs of accommodations. As many as 571 (56%) employers said that they incurred no cost for making accommodations for their employees. Another 403 (39%) employers reported incurring a one-time cost.
Only 46 (4%) employers said that they experienced an ongoing, annual cost for the accommodation, while 9 (1%) employers said that they incurred a combination of one-time and annual costs of accommodation. The median one-time cost among the employers who reported it was $500. The survey participants were also asked how much they paid for an accommodation beyond what they would have paid a worker without a disability who was in the same position. The median response was $20.
Costs of reasonable accommodation: typical examples
The JAN report described a few common workplace situations and potential costs of accommodation to resolve them.
Situation: An office employee with limitations in using her hands found it difficult to operate the computer mouse.
Solution: The employer arranged for a foot-operated computer mouse, foot pad, and speech-to-text software. The accommodation was successful.
Cost of Accommodation: $300
Situation: An office worker with cold sensitivity was experiencing pain in the head and neck because of the office temperature.
Solution: The employer switched off an air conditioning vent in the employee’s work area (cubicle) and diffused another vent away from the cubicle. The employee was also provided with a heated scarf.
Cost of Accommodation: $115
Situation: A professor with a mental health problem was finding it hard to concentrate at the workplace. The professor operated in a shared office space, and the cause of his problem was frequent interruptions.
Solution: A private office space was provided to the professor.
Cost of Accommodation: Zero
Situation: A county government employee with a kidney disorder requested to work remotely because of need to take frequent breaks and difficulty in commuting.
Solution: The employer permitted the employee to work from home and provided computer equipment to set up at home.
Cost of Accommodation: Zero (because the same equipment was provided to all employees)
Situation: An employee working in a lab environment was finding it hard to communicate with colleagues because of a progressive hearing loss.
Solution: Co-workers were asked to first ensure he was looking at them before they began to speak. In addition, every verbal communication was followed by written email communication. Everyone benefitted from this accommodation because they had a written record they could refer to at anytime.
Cost of Accommodation: Zero
Costs of accommodation at the workplace are usually inexpensive or cost nothing at all. Against this, the potential benefits for the employer are substantial because accommodations are aimed at improving productivity. Moreover, investing in the welfare of employees boosts workforce morale, loyalty, and contributes to the overall business success.