Study :: Making the Job Easier for Everyone
are many examples of successful job accommodation benefiting all
workers. Employers in these situations commonly ask, "Why didn't
we do this in the first place?" With growing emphasis on reducing
risk of cumulative and repetitive stress injuries due to poor work
and tool design, supervisors might well ask this question. The supervisor
in the case below realized the importance of a simple tool in preventing
injuries to other employees, as well as in accommodating the worker
with the disability. In situations like these, employees formerly
seen as "different" due to their disabilities help to
identify job and workplace design problems affecting all workers.
Their ergonomic needs become effective templates for improvements
in job and workplace design for all
experienced moderate limitations of judgment, balance, and coordination.
Through his vocational rehabilitation counselor, he was hired by
a window manufacturer to cut rolls of metal strips into short pieces
with hand snips. The supervisor felt this would be a good entry
level job for Robert, since there was plenty of margin for error
- strips could vary from 9" to 24" in length. This job
had previously been performed in a kneeling position on the floor,
since the full roll of metal strip was large and heavy, and once
the clips binding the roll of strip were cut, the roll uncoiled
suddenly and became very unwieldy to move. Understandably, no employee
enjoyed this job.
supervisor first demonstrated the job to Robert, showing the approximate
length needed and how to avoid the sharp end of the metal roll as
it sprang back to the spool when each cut was made. She also made
two marks on the floor to clearly indicate the proper strip length.
Despite the demonstrations, Robert's balance and coordination limitations
made it difficult for him to kneel on the floor and avoid cuts from
the recoiling metal strip. Both he and his supervisor became frustrated
from several attempts to improve the situation.
a desktop tape dispenser provided the inspiration for a simple and
successful accommodation. A very large "tape dispenser"
was fabricated from plywood to hold the tape at a comfortable height
above the floor. A roller allowed the end of the metal tape to be
slid through a gate to a stop exactly 9" from a slot for the
with this tool, Robert was able to immediately - and safely - perform
the job more quickly and efficiently than other employees, and without
any waste, since each strip was no longer than the minimum length.
this case, the supervisor really did say, "Why didn't we do
this in the first place?" Both she and her other employees
were surprised at the ease with which Robert was now able to perform
a task which had been difficult and undesirable for other employees.
Not surprisingly, the supervisor suggested that all workers use
this tool. Those who did found this job, which had previously been
the least desirable in the company, among the most preferred jobs.
Study :: Herman Miller, Inc.
Universal Design approach was used by office furniture system manufacturer
Herman Miller, Inc. in helping their customers comply with the Americans
with Disabilities Act and gain control of disability management.
Herman Miller, Inc., based in Zeeland, Michigan and second in size
only to Steelcase among office furniture manufacturers, had a strong
reputation among its customers and wanted to maintain it. (Mueller,
response to their customers' concerns, Herman Miller, Inc. produced
a videotape and an illustrated guide to office planning and design
entitled "Designing for Accessibility" (Herman Miller,
1995). These materials included recommendations for creating a workplace
as usable for workers with disabilities as for those without disabilities.
This workplace also includes flexibility for making specific accommodations
for employees who need reasonable accommodation.
the early 1990's, Herman Miller's customers felt the impact of The
Americans with Disabilities Act in several ways. Public businesses
and state and local government facilities were required to ensure
that their facilities were accessible to people with disabilities.
This meant that interiors, office systems, and furniture designed
and supplied by Herman Miller to these customers had to comply with
the accessibility guidelines of the new law.
the ADA required that employers make "reasonable accommodation"
for employees with disabilities. This meant that a Herman Miller
work station might have to accommodate an employee who could be
blind, deaf, a wheelchair user, or limited in a variety of other
the same time, a recession was causing American businesses to postpone
investments in new facilities and equipment. Seeking to make the
most of their investments, Herman Miller's customers began to preface
their contacts with sales reps with "How do your products comply
with the ADA?"
the ADA does not include standards for products like office furniture,
Herman Miller products by themselves could not comply with this
law. Instead, the law was written for compliance by organizations.
Herman Miller set out to address their customers' question by developing
a program to communicate its philosophy of complying with the ADA
through workplace design that eliminates barriers that all workers
example, a worker using a wheelchair might have difficulty retrieving
a thick file folder from the top drawer of a 4-drawer file cabinet.
But a coworker with short stature might have similar difficulties,
as would a worker with wrist fatigue after long hours of keyboard
work. The philosophy also included the capability to make "reasonable
accommodation" for disabled employees without undue effort
company also developed an Applications Guide to help customers understand
the requirements of the ADA, the incentives for returning employees
with disabilities to the job, and the features of office furniture
products that make "reasonable accommodation" possible.
Both the video and the Applications Guide were made available on
request through Herman Miller's sales network.
Thorough analysis of Herman Miller products and their usefulness
to workers with disabilities was needed for production of their
Application Guide. This effort revealed that Herman Miller's traditional
strong attention to established ergonomic principles was a good
beginning. The flexibility of their products in meeting a variety
of needs also helped customers to meet unique ergonomic needs of
workers with disabilities.
Herman Miller's competitors also realized the importance of providing
guidance to their customers regarding workers with disabilities.
Haworth, Inc. developed an ADA Handbook, which described the requirements
of the law and, like Herman Miller, illustrated ways in which Haworth
products could be used effectively to comply with these requirements.
The Knoll Group produced a guidebook entitled Workplace Issues:
Universal Design and the ADA. Steelcase, in its award-winning design
for a self-contained workspace called "Personal Harbor",
incorporated accessibility guidelines into the parameters of the
Mueller, J. (2002). "Environmental Avccess in the Workplace".
In D. Olson and F. DeRuyter (Eds.) Clinician's Guide to Assistive
Technology. Mosby, Inc., St. Louis.