By definition, a permanent state of compliance within the law of reasonable accommodation (RA) is a myth: RA is a daily journey. For the employee or applicant using the accommodation, a state of ability, rather than disability, is the daily experience of an effective accommodation. In a well-organized, compliance-focused workplace, reaching the state of ability and effective work may have been a short journey. For the disability manager facilitating workers’ requests, each effective accommodation is just one step in a long journey of compliance based on a strong commitment to health and safety .
One of the secrets of a disability manager’s successful practice of reasonable accommodation is to prepare for the journey before it begins. This preparation puts the manager in charge of the process, not at the effect or mercy of the process.
Like all successful journeys in life, the best we can do to prepare is to anticipate what we will need along the way. And I use the word “need” carefully: bring along what will serve you on the journey and dump those things and attitudes which will not serve you.
The things one needs on the reasonable accommodation journey have been spelled out by a “tour guide” and by other voyagers. The tour guide is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); the other voyagers are federal court judges, vendors of reasonable accommodation services, and the occasional attorney-blogger. It is wise to refer to each of these sources of information when preparing for the journey.
Here is one of the important decisions you have the freedom to make before preparing: do you want to be “in charge” of your journey or do you want to just “react” to the people and conditions along the way. My personal style is a little of both: I like to investigate the options and gather resources before setting out, but, I am also not afraid to venture forth and take things as they come. I have not always been this way. For example, the first time I landed in a foreign international airport, my reaction to the noise, the offer of assistance for a price, and the unfamiliar language showed as fear in on my face. The first time you receive a request for a job accommodation from a disgruntled employee may create a similar reaction.
If you want to be in charge of the experience, as much as you can be, you will decide the rules in advance: You set the tone. You own the map. You decide the destination.
Taking the other, more reactive approach to managing accommodation requests, causes you to be always on the defensive. You will be pushed to shield yourself with excess documentation. You will find yourself wishing for a few minutes of no noise so you can organize your thinking and the process. Taking a reactive approach to managing accommodation requests takes twice the energy as being prepared with the forms, the map, the attitude, and knowing the outcome you desire ahead of time.
In this space, over the next few months of summer, I will explore the elements of being prepared for a successful journey. Visit this blog space for installments!