Design at Work
do you do for a living?" is one of the first questions asked
when people meet. Especially in the United States, one's personal
identity depends heavily on what he or she does for a living.
of Americans with disabilities have no answer to this question,
creating a heavy burden for themselves, for their families, for
business, and for the nation. Government and industry experience
show that job and workplace design that accommodates diverse ages
and abilities can save money and help prevent disability among their
coworkers as well.
Universal Design :: The Changing Work Force
common occupational injuries such as repetitive upper-extremity
stress and back pain and the steadily aging workforce assure that
disability will continue to be a common concern among American workers
and their employers.
the workforce ages and the cost of work disability rises, demographic
and economic trends have combined with legislation promoting employment
of people with disabilities to make Universal Design at Work a powerful
issue. Workplace design that considers age-related changes in vision,
hearing, posture, and mobility will be critical to a work force
expected to extend their careers longer than previous generations.
per cent of all people with disabilities are not born with them,
but develop them during the course of their lives (Louis Harris
and Associates, 1994). As more people live longer lives, the likelihood
of experiencing a disability during one's lifetime increases. The
workplace is the site of millions of injuries per year. But not
all disabilities are caused at work.
than 3 million Americans each year survive severe auto accidents,
sports injuries, strokes, and heart attacks (Lowery, 1994). Medical
progress has had a profound effect on treatment of illness and accidents
which a short time ago were fatal. From 1970 to 1997, the survival
rate from strokes more than doubled, and the survival rate from
traumatic brain injury improved from 10% to 90% (Jones and Sanford,
Universal Design :: Legislation
and Workers with Disabilities
action toward the rights of people with disabilities dates back
to efforts of disabled veterans immediately following World War
II, including the late Harold Russell, first Chairman of the President's
Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.
legislation on behalf of people with disabilities later followed
the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Along with laws prohibiting
discrimination on the basis of disability came requirements for
access to employment, education, public accommodations, telecommunications,
and transportation (Story, Mueller, and Mace, 1998):
503 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal contractors
and subcontractors with Government contracts in excess of $10,000
to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified
individuals with disabilities.
I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits
job discrimination by employers, with 15 or more employees, against
qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires "reasonable
accommodation" of qualified persons with disabilities by employers,
which may include physical job and workplace modifications.
508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires that electronic
and information technology purchased by the federal government is
usable by workers with disabilities. This law applies to software
applications and operating systems, web-based internet and intranet
systems, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products,
desktop and portable computers, and self-contained free-standing
products such as fax machines and copiers.
Universal Design :: Costs of Disability Benefits
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its predecessor, the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibit employers from discriminating
against individuals with disabilities who are qualified and able
to perform the essential duties of an available job, with or without
reasonable accommodation. These laws have boosted the employment
rights of people with disabilities, but they have had little effect
on the level of unemployment among people with disabilities.
among Americans with disabilities is an enormous burden on them
and on their families. Hundreds of thousands of employees become
disabled each year and leave the workplace permanently. Their former
employers must bear the burden of replacing them while also paying
disability benefits. These costs average more than $150,000 per
disabled employee (Farrell et al, 1989). At the same time, taxpayers
must help fund public benefit programs for them such as Social Security
Disability Income (SSDI).
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) program is the primary
source of income for millions of Americans considered too disabled
to work. Between 1985 and 1994, SSDI payments doubled from $19 billion
to $38 billion (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995). Realizing
that continuing increases like this could destroy the Administration's
budget, Congress passed the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency
Act of 1999 to provide greater vocational rehabilitation services
and financial incentives to enable more Americans with disabilities
to work (Social Security Administration, 2000). This law, combined
with the Americans with Disabilities Act, makes job and workplace
design that considers the needs of workers with disabilities more
important than ever.
Universal Design :: Getting Back to Work
both government and business have been much more willing to pay
cash benefits than to provide assistance to help disabled workers
return to productive employment. For every $100 in cash benefits
paid to disabled persons, the Social Security Administration spends
only about a dime for rehabilitation services (U.S. General Accounting
Office, 1995). Among private businesses, the total of insurance
costs, replacement expenses, and workers' compensation and other
disability benefit payments due to work disability was expected
to reach $200 billion per year by the turn of the century (Farrell,
with the enormous cost of paying disabled employees not to work,
making accommodations to bring them back to the job are cheap. According
to the Job Accommodation Network, 71 per cent of accommodations
cost $500 or less. For every $1 spent on job accommodation, the
employer gets back $26 in savings (Job Accommodation Network, 1999).
Yet, about one-quarter of the ADA Title I complaints filed with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) allege failure
to provide reasonable accommodation. And it's no secret that litigation
is expensive. The average cost to defend employee related lawsuits
such as ADA violations is estimated at $30,000 (NHC Insurance Services,
no longer means "unable to work". This attitude has been
rendered obsolete by law, as well as by population demographics
and the economic realities of disability in business. Accommodation
of workers with disabilities through job and workplace design is
here to stay. By instilling a universal design approach among those
responsible for the development of work environments and products,
the incidence of work disabilities can be reduced. And those accommodations
that are required for workers with disabilities will be much more
likely to be reasonable accommodations.
Accommodation and Prevention
accommodations usually benefit coworkers without disabilities as
well as the worker requesting accommodation. It is rare that on-site
job accommodation needs analysis does not reveal risks of re-injury
to the returning disabled worker that are also hazards to other
employees. Accommodations developed with this in mind bring employers
the double benefit of accommodating as well as preventing disability.
the very least, job accommodations for workers with disabilities
should be transparent, or have no effect at all on coworkers or
customers. This is not as difficult as it may sound. For employers
with little experience with disabilities, it can be very difficult
to imagine how an employee with very different abilities from his
or her coworkers might share similar needs. But the same barriers
to productive and safe work faced by an employee with a significant
disability are usually barriers to non-disabled coworkers as well,
though to a lesser degree.
Mueller, J. (2001). "Office and Workplace Design". In
W.F.E.Preiser and E. Ostroff, (Eds.) Universal Design Handbook.
McGraw-Hill, New York.