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ADA accommodation: There’s an app for that

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

That clunky, expensive magnifier attachment that allows visually-impaired employees to read their computer screens is about to go the way of the floppy disk. For a fraction of the cost, employers can download software apps that read screen contents in a human-sounding voice.

Other apps allow people readout transcripts of telephone conversations in real time.

From creating custom keyboards to interpreting garbled phone conversations, apps can now quickly, and inexpensively, help employers accommodate disabled workers. Employers that remain unaware of these innovations, however, risk real liability.

The ADA requires employers to accommodate an employee’s disability as long as it does not create an undue hardship for the employer. Courts examine hardship relative to the employer’s resources. In other words, larger employers are expected to pony up more for accommodations than small, family-owned, businesses.

The cost of accommodation continues to fall with every hardware and software innovation—which means fewer employers will be able to claim undue hardship.

The best approach is to at least be familiar with the most common apps available, such as those that assist visually and hearing impaired employees. A simple Google search for “low vision apps” and “hearing enhancement apps” will get you started.

Advice: Feel free to ask disabled employees for accommodation suggestions. There is no legal requirement for you to accept an employee’s desired accommodation. However, people with disabilities often know about the latest helping apps.

For less common disabilities, don’t deny requests too quickly. Instead, get all the details about the request including the nature of the employee’s disability and how it affects his or her ability to perform the job’s essential functions.

Then, do some research, find out what options are available and determine the total cost, including any workplace disruption the accommodation may create.

Choose the lowest-cost option that allows the employee to perform the job’s essential function. In many cases, new technology will provide the most economical solution, allowing you to retain productive employees without risking litigation.

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