1. Read the articles on assistive devices, and universally design which can benefit persons with disabilities and help them to integrate into mainstream society, both in school and at work.  Provide an account of the key takeaways that you felt were most important, mentioning in particular barriers and possible solutions for a more enabled community or workplace.
2. What unique assistive device can you come up with? From example, my father made a device to aid his sister who had lost her vision in putting on her socks and stockings. I have noticed that the bus shelter near me is not deep enough to allow a person using a wheelchair to be protected from the elements.  Note: You might want to confer with a persons with a disability to find out what would make their lives easier.)
3. What examples of universal design do you use or have used in the past?
Class Resources

Assistive technology is a relatively new term used to
describe devices and services that lessen or remove
barriers faced by persons with disabilities. Although
the term is contemporary, the use of assistive tech-
nology is not new. For centuries, individuals with
disabilities have used a variety of assistive devices to
help them overcome demands in the environment.
For example, years ago individuals with a hearing
loss realized that placing a horn to their ear ampli-
fied sounds and consequently created a primitive
version of today’s hearing aid. Unfortunately, until
the 1970s it was up to individuals to find appropriate
devices to help them ameliorate their disabilities. In
2002, with support from federal legislation, schools
and businesses are required to help individuals with
disabilities identify and use appropriate assistive
technologies and services. The first piece of such leg-
islation was Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973 (Pub. L. 99-506). This law prohibits discrimi-
nation of persons with disabilities in places of federal
employment. Section 504 mandates that federal em-
ployees with disabilities must have the necessary ac-
commodations to enable them to access databases,
telecommunications systems, and other software
programs, to contribute to work-related tasks, and
to communicate with others in their system.
Subsequent to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individ-
uals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100-407),
better known as the Tech Act, was passed into law.
This piece of legislation provided financial assistance
for states to plan and implement a consumer-
responsive system of assistive-technology services
for individuals of all ages with disabilities. The provi-
sions of the Tech Act required states to identify exist-
ing assistive-technology services and ensure that
persons with disabilities acquired access to assistive-
technology services, including assessment, funding
for devices, training, and technical assistance.
Following on the heels of the Tech Act was the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
(Pub. L. 101-336). This legislation is designed to pre-
vent discrimination against persons with disabilities
in four major areas: employment, public facilities,
transportation, and telecommunications. Many of
these accommodations are made through the use of
assistive technologies, such as modified worksta-
tions, ramps at the entrances to buildings, and tele-
communications devices for persons who are deaf.
The Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA)
Amendments of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-476) officially
changed EHA to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA). At this time, assistive tech-
nology was added to the list of special education ser-
vices that must be included in a student’s
Individualized Education Program (IEP). IDEA de-
fines assistive-technology services as ‘‘any service
that directly assists a child with a disability in the se-
lection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology
Under IDEA, assistive-technology services in-
• the evaluation of the needs of a child identified
with a disability, including a functional evalua-
tion of the child in the child’s customary envi-
• purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for
the acquisition of assistive-technology devices;
• selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapt-
ing, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replac-
ing of assistive-technology devices;
• coordinating and using other therapies, inter-
ventions, or services with assistive-technology
devices, such as those associated with existing
education and rehabilitation plans and pro-
• training or technical assistance for a child or,
where appropriate, the family of the child; and
• training or technical assistance for professionals
(including individuals providing education and
rehabilitation services), employers, or other in-
dividuals who provide services to, employ, or
are otherwise substantially involved in the
major life functions of a child with an identified
IDEA defined an assistive-technology device as ‘‘any
item, piece of equipment or product system, wheth-
er acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or
customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or
improve the functional capabilities of children with
The use of assistive-technology devices and ser-
vices by students with disabilities is further sup-
ported in the amendments to IDEA (Pub. L. 105-
17). The law mandates that, beginning in July 1998,
assistive technology must be considered for all stu-
dents eligible for special education services. Al-
though the regulations do not elaborate on how
assistive technology must be considered, the law
states that the IEP team must be involved in the deci-
sion-making process. It further states that outside
evaluators must be used when the IEP team lacks the
expertise to conduct an evaluation and make an in-
formed decision regarding assistive technology. In
addition, it is the responsibility of the school system
to secure funding for the device and to provide
training to school personnel, family members, and
the student as educationally appropriate.
Assistive Technology and Human Functions
As of 2001, thousands of different assistive technolo-
gies have been developed to provide a broad array
of support to individuals with disabilities. These as-
sistive technologies have been categorized into seven
functional areas: (1) existence; (2) communication;
(3) body support, protection, and positioning; (4)
travel and mobility; (5) environmental interaction;
(6) education and transition; and (7) sports, fitness,
and recreation. Following is a short description of
each of the seven functional areas, with examples of
assistive-technology devices and services available to
support individuals with disabilities.
Problems in the existence area are associated
with the functions needed to sustain life, including
eating, grooming, dressing, elimination, and hy-
giene. Some assistive technologies in this area are
adapted utensils, dressing aids, adapted toilet seats,
toilet training, and occupational therapy services.
Students with communication needs have diffi-
culties associated with the functions needed to re-
ceive, internalize, and express information, and to
interact socially, including oral and written expres-
sion and visual and auditory reception. Solutions
may include hearing amplifiers, magnifiers, point-
ers, alternate computer input, augmentative com-
munication devices and services, social skills
training, and speech/language therapy services.
Body support, protection and positioning issues
are associated with the functions needed to stabilize
support or protect a portion of the body while sit-
ting, standing, or reclining. Assistive technologies
may include prone standers, furniture adaptations,
support harnesses, stabilizers, head gear, and physi-
cal therapy services.
Travel and mobility needs are associated with
the necessity to move horizontally or vertically, in-
cluding crawling, walking, navigating, stair climbing,
and transferring either laterally or vertically. Tech-
nologies to assist with travel and mobility include
wheelchairs, scooters, hoists, cycles, walkers, crutch-
es, and orientation- and mobility-training services.
Difficulties in environmental interaction are as-
sociated with the functions needed to perform activ-
ities across environments, including operating
computer equipment and accessing facilities. Assis-
tive-technology solutions may include the use of
switches to control computers, remote-control de-
vices, adapted appliances, ramps, automatic door
openers, modified furniture, driving aids, and reha-
bilitation services.
Problems in education and transition are associ-
ated with the functions needed to participate in
learning activities and to prepare for new school set-
tings or postschool environments. Assistive technol-
ogies may include educational software, computer
adaptations, community-based instruction, and ser-
vices from an assistive technologist.
Persons needing assistive technology for sports,
fitness, and recreation require assistance with indi-
vidual or group sports, play, and hobbies and craft
activities. Those individuals may benefit from modi-
fied rules and equipment, adapted aquatics, switch-
activated cameras, and braille playing cards, and
may participate in adapted physical education ser-
Employing Assistive Technology
Federal law mandates that assistive technology must
be considered for all individuals served under IDEA.
When assistive technologies are being considered, it
is important to remember that the consideration
must be based on the needs of the individual rather
than on the type of disability. Factors of human
function must guide any decision as to the appropri-
ateness of assistive technology. Every individual with
a disability faces a unique set of challenges and de-
mands, and the successful use of assistive technology
means that these challenges and demands can be
lessened or removed. The power and promise of as-
sistive technology can be realized only when the
needs of a person with a disability are identified and
the assistive technology is designed to meet those
needs. If this is not done, the potential power of as-
sistive technology will not be realized.
See also: Adapted Physical Education; Special
Education, subentries on Current Trends, His-
tory of, Preparation of Teachers.
Alliance for Technology Access. 2000. Comput-
ers and Web Resources for Persons with Disabili-
ties: A Guide to Exploring Today’s Assistive
Technology, 3rd edition. Alameda, CA: Hunter
Blackhurst, A. Edward, and Lahm, Elizabeth A.
2000. ‘‘Technology and Exceptional Founda-
tions.’’ In Technology and Exceptional Individu-
als, ed. Jimmy D. Lindsey. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Chambers, Antoinette C. 1997. Has Technology
Been Considered? A Guide for IEP Teams. Res-
ton, VA: Council of Administrators of Special
Education and the Technology and Media Divi-
sion of the Council for Exceptional Children.
Cook, Albert M., and Hussey, Susan M. 1995. As-
sistive Technologies: Principles and Practice. St.
Louis, MO: Mosby.
Flippo, Karen F.; Inge, Katherine J.; and Barcus,
J. Michael, eds. 1995. Assistive Technology: A
Resource for School, Work, and Community. Bal-
timore: Brookes.
Galvin, Jan C., and Scherer, Marcia J. 1996.
Evaluating, Selecting and Using Appropriate As-
sistive Technology. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.
Golden, Diane. 1998. Assistive Technology in Special
Education: Policy and Practice. Reston, VA:
Council of Administrators of Special Education
and the Technology and Media Division of the
Council for Exceptional Children.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997.
U.S. Public Law 105-17. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, secs.
1400 et seq.
National Assistive Technology Research In-
stitute. 2001. ‘‘Assistive Technology Funda-
mentals.’’ .
Ted S. Hasselbring
Margaret E. Bausch
The Association of American Colleges and Universi-
ties (AAC&U) is the national association that works
to advance and strengthen undergraduate liberal ed-
ucation for all college students, regardless of their
academic specialization or intended career. Since its
founding in 1915, AAC&U’s membership as of 2001
included more than 735 accredited public and pri-
vate colleges and universities of every type and size.
AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator,
forging links among presidents, administrators, and
faculty members who are engaged in institutional
and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce
the collective commitment to liberal education at
both the national and local levels and to help indi-
vidual institutions keep the quality of student learn-
ing at the core of their work as they evolve to meet
new economic and social challenges.
In 1995 the AAC&U board of directors ap-
proved five priorities that guide AAC&U’s work: (1)
mobilizing collaborative leadership for educational
and institutional effectiveness; (2) building faculty
leadership in the context of institutional renewal; (3)
strengthening curricula to serve student and societal
needs; (4) establishing diversity as an educational
and civic priority; and (5) fostering global engage-
ment in a diverse but connected world.
Educational Vision
AAC&U advocates for excellence in liberal educa-
tion as an equal opportunity commitment—to all
students regardless of where they study, what they
major in, or what their career goals are. Although
liberal education has always set the standard for ex-
cellence in higher education, the content of a liberal
education has changed markedly over time, and the
educational vision and nature of AAC&U’s pro-
grammatic work has changed accordingly. Since
AAC&U’s founding, however, liberal education at
American colleges and universities has consistently
fostered the development of intellectual capacities
and ethical judgment and the attainment of a sophis-
ticated understanding of nature, culture, and society.
AAC&U believes that liberal education prepares
graduates better for work and for civic leadership in
their society.
As it has evolved over the last few decades of the
twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-
first century, liberal education has come to place
new emphasis on diversity and pluralism. In a board
statement approved in 1998, AAC&U asserted that,
‘‘by its nature, liberal education is globalistic and
pluralistic. It embraces the diversity of ideas and ex-
Universally Designing the Public
Sector Workplace: Technology as
Disability Access
Carrie Griffin Basas
More than twenty years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities
continue to face discrimination in society, particularly in employment. At the same time, workers with
disabilities often seek shelter in public sector employment settings where job benefits and stability are
perceived to be greater. Understanding that employees with disabilities are an increasing and desirable part
of the American workforce, unions, particularly in the public sector, have increased outreach to this
population. Their collective bargaining agreements will have to reflect this inclusion, however, to be successful
in hiring and retaining worker-members with disabilities. Building on her earlier study of the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)’s collective bargaining agreements and
their disability provisions, the author provides a foundation for how unions might adopt proactive,
partnership-based disability policies, particularly in the area of technology-based reasonable accommodations.
We are hearing about many people being let go [at the Veterans Affairs Admin-
istration]. There was a surge of hires to do that work, and now we are getting
reports of people being fired in their probation periods. Many of these are vets
and disabled vets. (Marilyn Park, legislative representative for the American
Federation of Government Employees [an AFL-CIO union, February 10,
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides for the
elimination of disability discrimination in the workforce, particularly through
its mandate that employers implement “reasonable accommodations”—
modifications to or variations in workplace policies, schedules, and tasks—when
they do not eliminate the essential functions of the job or pose undue hardships
(administratively or financially).2 The ADA also provides guidelines for imple-
menting respectful hiring practices when it comes to disability-related inquiries.3
It frames itself as a tool for eradicating a long history of bias and stigma against
people with disabilities, as well as serious underemployment and unemployment
of that population—with rates to two to three times that of the nondisabled.4
WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society · 1089-7011 · Volume 16 · March 2013 · pp. 69–86
WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society © 2013 Immanuel Ness and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
While efforts to hire people with disabilities, particularly in public servant
positions, are critical to the diversification of the American workplace and the
elimination of disability discrimination, hiring is only one step in the process and
needs to be bolstered by comprehensive plans and support for reasonable
accommodation post-hire. Without such support, veterans and disabled veterans
such as the ones described by Marilyn Park may see just another brief line item
added to their work histories.
To understand the preparedness of the public sector for workers with dis-
abilities, I have undertaken a systematic study of AFSCME’s current contracts
database, with an interest in seeing how public sector unions address (or do not)
disability issues in their collective bargaining agreements and in the workplace,
generally.5 Are people with disabilities actively recruited and retained into the
unionized workforce? What protections can they expect to see once they arrive?
The relevance of these questions is far from narrow in its reach. The U.S.
workforce continues to grow older,6 work itself is a risky enterprise,7 and gov-
ernment is increasing efforts to people with disabilities in hiring, arguably
making the workforce more representative of disability in the coming years.8
Even with this increasing presence of disability in the workforce itself and in the
conscience of employers, particularly in the public sector, the collective bargain-
ing agreements in this study have not kept pace. They reflect a highly medical-
ized approach to disability, in which they frame it not as civil rights and access,
but more as an injury or impairment that happens to an individual worker.9 This
kind of medical problem sometimes can be addressed effectively through insur-
ances of various kinds, workers’ compensation, and sick leave, which are the
most prominent provisions in the agreements.10 However, these medical provi-
sions, however useful on the practical level, are not tied to plans for inclusion,
such as those envisioned by the ADA’s drafters. It is not surprising that, under
this approach, there is relative weak representation of workers with disabilities in
the economy over time, as contract workers or able-bodied substitutes replace
people with disabilities.11
If medical-oriented resources fail to be effective, the worker with a disability
might perceive a failure in the system. He or she will find few enumerated
resources in the collective bargaining agreements acknowledging a civil rights-
based approach to equal access and opportunity, as embodied by the Americans
with Disabilities Act.12 While those rights exist outside the collective bargaining
agreements, even if they fail to acknowledge them, their representation is both
symbolically and pragmatically important in demonstrating a commitment to
disability civil rights and a procedure for exercising and enforcing them. Their
inclusion can also serve as an important form of worker self-education. Very few
(n = 17 out of 100) current contracts, for example, discuss reasonable accommo-
dations, and even fewer provide any details about procedures for asking for or
making accommodations.13
Failure to include accommodation in collective bargaining agreements could
result from a number of factors, including avoidance of complexities, resistance
to the mandate, limited energies in the bargaining process, and the prioritization
of other needs above detailed descriptions in the agreement. Indeed, the rea-
sonable accommodation mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act was
perhaps its most controversial when the law was enacted.14 Fears, however, about
undue costs and administrative burdens on employers have been gradually offset
by the affordability and ease of society-wide technological improvements that
are stand-ins for specialized assistive technology for people with disabilities.15
With technology’s increasing relevance as access for workers with disabilities,
one might therefore expect to observe some discussion of it as accommodation
in the collective bargaining agreements. These provisions are rare, however; the
most prominent technology-based accommodations discussed in the agreements
have to do with making training materials and policies accessible in alternative
At the same time, unions, particularly in the public sector, seem very inter-
ested in obtaining new members with disabilities and retaining current members
with disabilities. Their websites and organizing materials reflect greater aware-
ness about disability as a workplace diversity issue.17 Pragmatically speaking,
however, one of the chief concerns of workers with disabilities—new to the
workplace or existing members—is how their disabilities will be accommodated
at work.18 While not all workers with disabilities need or ask for accommoda-
tions, approximately 10 percent do ask for accommodations that are technology
or equipment based, such as screen-reading software, voice dictation software
text-messaging cell phones, reaching devices, and screen magnification soft-
ware.19 Therefore, as unions consider what their commitments to technology
will be, and simultaneously consider the needs of workers with disabilities or
anyone who could become disabled in the course of work, a consistent, thought-
ful technology action plan will be of great importance. Through this article, I
hope to provide strategies for unions to implement their disability-inclusive
vision in ways that will continue to be timely as technology advances.
Simply enhancing technology in the workplace—“keeping up” with the
neighbors in the private sector—might not be enough. With new technology
come new difficulties for people with different access needs. For example,
increased website design complexity has multiplied access barriers for visually
impaired users, and telephones without video conferencing or text capabilities
pose barriers to deaf people. In this article, I will discuss how efforts to respond
to the needs of workers with disabilities and integrate and update technological
approaches in the workplace can be complementary. The first section of the
article addresses briefly some of the pipeline issues for public sector unions, such
as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
(AFSCME), as they consider attracting and retaining members with disabilities.
The next part of the article provides an overview of assistive technology and
universal design and how those issues become part of the reasonable accommo-
dation process and the responsibilities inherent to it. Then, I offer insights into
the special concerns of unions, particularly in the public sector when it comes to
these technology accommodations, and close the article by providing resources
and suggestions to address these concerns. This final section, through its action
Basas: Technology as Disability Access 71
plan, goes beyond the narrow question of technology and accommodations in
the unionized public sector workforce, charting a way for the labor and disability
rights movement to have effective collaboration.
Pipeline Issues
To understand how to attract and retain workers with disabilities, unions will
have to gain an understanding of the historical and current barriers keeping their
employment suppressed. People with disabilities remain the largest unemployed
minority population in the U.S.20 Even two decades after the passage of the
Americans with Disabilities Act and its employment provisions, the situation of
unemployment has not changed greatly for this population.21 Many labor and
disability scholars attribute this problem to attitudinal barriers that prevent
people with disabilities from being hired into the workforce commensurate with
their skills, and issues of retention within the workplace, if employers fail to
effectively accommodate employees with disabilities.22
Over time, public sector employment has become regarded as a safe place for
workers with disabilities because of consistent benefits, clear leave policies,
flexible schedules, and other health-friendly approaches.23 However, no one has
done a comprehensive study of how workers with disabilities are actually treated
within public employment, or how issues of accommodation are addressed.
Much of the allure of the public sector could be a reality or myth. Regardless,
people with disabilities do tend to gravitate toward these work settings, and their
treatment within them should be a significant research question because it could
shape not only that sector, but also strategies in the private sector for greater
workforce participation by people with disabilities.24
Unions, in general, have been regarded by workers, disabled or not, as places
of protection and assistance, as well.25 Thinking about these issues synergisti-
cally, one might expect that people with disabilities might not only gravitate to
federal, state, and municipal kinds of employment, but also to unionized pro-
tection in those settings. (Unions, however, have not been consistent about
tracking disability identity in the workplace.)26 If stable, consistent jobs are what
are sought, then unionization’s promises of representation and fairness offer
expanded benefits of working in the public sector for people with disabilities—if
and only if, unions begin to understand the demands that disability poses in the
workplace. This perception of demand should not be a deterrent but rather a
realization that disability poses its own set of issues, and ones that if they are
addressed effectively, will provide benefits to any worker that might have similar
health care, flexibility, and equality concerns, disabled or not.27
Universal Design vs. Assistive Technology
One barrier to implementing the vision and requirements of disability non-
discrimination law has been employers understanding what is required of them.
Title I of The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that all employers,
including those that are public sector and unionized or are labor organizations
themselves, must provide “reasonable accommodations” to job candidates and
qualified employees with disabilities.28 Reasonable accommodations are modifi-
cations to a job, the workplace, or processes and policies that enable a qualified
individual with a disability to experience equal employment opportunity and the
benefits and privileges of employment—essentially, a “ramp” to similar job
performance and benefits that a similarly situated employee without a disability
might enjoy.29 Accommodations allow employees with disabilities to perform the
essential functions of the job and become integrated into the workplace and the
productivity stream. The accommodation process is described as “interactive,”30
where employers and employees discuss what the needs and possibilities are, and
arrive through dialogue, at a solution that is not an undue burden (financially or
administratively) on the employer and yet meets the needs of the employee.31
Some examples of reasonable accommodations include job restructuring,
adjusted work schedules, changing job or training materials, providing qualified
readers or interpreters, reassignment to vacant positions, and purchasing or
modifying equipment.32 This last example is the focus of this article.
In acquiring or modifying new equipment, primarily these days—
technology—an employer is wise to consider these acquisitions from the view-
points of both universal design33 and assistive technology.34 Assistive technology
is equipment that enables people with disabilities to perform various tasks; its
design is focused on the physical or mental impairments that limit the individual.
Universal design (“UD”), in contrast, takes a broader perspective, considering
the ways in which all technology purchases, workspace decisions, and “improve-
ments” to workplace processes, might affect all users.35 The goal of universal
design is to create social communities and physical spaces where the need for
individual accommodation is reduced because the greatest number of people has
access from the beginning without the need for special interventions. Universal
design encourages flexible spaces and thought processes in advancing everything
from adjustable desks and chairs to time and stress-saving software for all
employees to use.36
Assistive technology’s rightful place, in an environment focused on UD,
should be as a gap filler as employers move toward workplaces that work for
everyone.37 Universal design focuses not just on physical environments but also
on company processes and the accessibility of them. 38 Assistive technology
becomes, then, the focus of reasonable accommodations or personal vocational
In looking at technology decisions, employers may sometimes be concerned
that any acquisitions or modifications to equipment are for “personal,” not
professional use by the employee.39 The Equal Employment Opportunity Com-
mission (EEOC), in interpreting the ADA’s requirements, also makes this dis-
tinction, requiring employers to make accommodations that serve a purpose in
the workplace and asking employees with disabilities to provide their own
technology that has a personal purpose, such as a cane, electric wheelchair,
ventilator, hearing aid, or prosthetic limb.40 If any item is specifically designed to
Basas: Technology as Disability Access 73
meet job-related needs or used primarily on the job to accomplish the essential
functions of the job, then it falls into the category of a potential workplace
In a recent study by the Job Accommodation Network, a program of the U.S.
Department of Labor, researchers found that about 25 percent of employers were
considering an accommodation solution that involved buying a product or
equipment, such as software or a tool.42 About 10 percent were considering
modifying a product or equipment, while a smaller number were considering
doing both. JAN’s largest set of inquiries (32%) came from federal, state, and local
government serving everything from executive to legislative functions.43 (Service,
finance, health care, education, and manufacturing industries also presented a
large number of JAN’s information and assistance requests). JAN notes that less
than half of 1 percent of its yearly contacts come from people identifying
themselves as union leaders (number in FY 2010–2011 was 40,554).44 While they
did not track specific inquiries from unions or provide any breakdown between
private and public sector unions, for that matter, they do note a few interesting
findings. Most of their calls and e-mail inquiries were from public sector employ-
ers about reasonable accommodations.45 Of those requests, most of them related
to motor and mobility impairments (42 percent), closely followed by sensory
accommodations (36 percent). The remainder of the accommodations related to
disabilities that were cognitive, neurological, psychiatric, or classified as “other.”46
The Special Concerns of Public Sector Unions
Employers, public sector or private, unionized or not, often feel daunted by
the ADA and the perceived complexities of its provisions and the burdens that it
might pose on their administrative and financial resources.47 Employers, at the
very base line, want to hire workers that can do the job efficiently and effectively
with minimal intervention and individual expenditures. The accommodations
approach of the ADA assumes that employers will have to spend more money to
hire and retain an employee with a disability, in contrast to one without.48 This
assumption is not universally true, however. Only about 20 percent of employees
with disabilities require accommodations, and 89 percent of those accommoda-
tions are one-time expenditures of $500 or less.49 This kind of situation is
comparable to all kinds of other lifespan and health considerations that enter the
workplace, such as pregnancy, temporary injury, paternity leave, and retrain-
ing.50 In some ways, disability can be less expensive, and seen as more of an
investment in the long-term productivity of the employee and the enterprise.
JAN’s research on universal design and assistive technology supports this posi-
tion, as well, claiming that most employers reported direct and indirect benefits
from purchasing or modifying technology, including the retention of a qualified
employee, increases in individual and company productivity, the elimination of
the costs of hiring a new employee, improved interactions with coworkers, and
increased company morale.51
The concerns of employers, particularly public sector unions, are real, how-
ever, and require strategies for addressing them effectively. In this tough economy,
employers are worried about financial constraints and the costs of accommoda-
tions.52 As federal, state, and local budgets experience hardships, resources for
accommodation in the public sector might become particularly limited. Employ-
ers might worry that initial accommodation requests could become a slippery
slope to less control over the workplace and their budgets. They lack expertise
with the ADA and can find it to be threatening and confusing.53 In the public
sector, these kinds of concerns might be exacerbated by the interest of people with
disabilities in finding perceived safe refuge in that form of employment.54 Even
without asking for accommodation, people with disabilities might provide a stress
on government budgets with increased health-care costs and needs.55
At the heart of this tension is the struggle between individual interests,
which the ADA seems to represent, and the collective good position of union
representation where individual interests are subsumed to the needs of the
whole. Workers with disabilities undeniably pose issues when it comes to senior-
ity, job reassignment, job restructuring, and flexible scheduling.56 Perhaps, it is
no surprise that unions seem interested in recruitment but have not sufficiently
expressed preparedness for disability and accommodation processes in their
collective bargaining agreements.57 It is all the superficial upside of disability as
diversity without a great handle on the logistics, which have daunted employers
in all sectors since the ADA’s passage. Unions might be concerned that they
cannot sufficiently represent the issues of people with disabilities, or that in
doing so, they might have to sacrifice other members’ interests or even those of
the citizens of the locales they serve through their government employment.58
One seemingly forgotten perspective in this mix of concerns is the manner in
which unions historically have gotten to know and understand disability as an
experience. Because efforts to infuse disability into a larger diversity agenda are
relatively new in all employment sectors, disability, for most of the industrialized
period, has been an impediment that results from workplace injuries. Those
individuals with preexisting disabilities simply did not work or did piecemeal work
from home.59 While unions have stood ready to assist colleagues disabled by the
workplace, they seem less prepared to embrace disability as socially disabling and
a civil rights and diversity experience. The fact that AFSCME’s collective bar-
gaining agreements (CBAs), for example, are replete with provisions for workers’
compensation, sick leave, and injury, and yet lack a broader vision of disability,
supports this position.60 One step forward for unions is to gain understanding
about the disability civil rights movement and locate its place among other civil
rights movements that unions have supported as they have changed the face of
their operations and values.61
Resources to Address Access and Expertise Gaps: A Way Forward
If employers and unions tend to overlook the needs of workers with disabili-
ties, as I have surmised, because of fears62 and gaps in knowledge, education is
Basas: Technology as Disability Access 75
the way forward for greater inclusion in the unionized workforce. Rather than
expecting each union—at the local or national level—to become stand-alone
experts in disability law and reasonable accommodation principles, efforts
should be directed at encouraging dialogue between the labor and civil rights
movements. Through this exchange, both can better appreciate the needs of the
other, while mapping resources that will assist in realizing disability integration
at work.
No Need to Become Stand-Alone Experts
The first strategy to infusing more of an accommodations vision in public
sector unionized workplaces is to dispel the concern that unions and unionized
employers need to become stand-alone experts in the ADA and reasonable
accommodation solutions, particularly emerging technologies.63 One missing
aspect of the disability rights movement and the execution of the ADA was
knowledge about an array of community-based services to assist both workers
with disabilities, their employers, and unions.64 These resources range from the
Department of Labor (DOL)-sponsored Job Accommodation Network to state
assistive technology projects.65 The work of making workplaces more tech and
disability friendly will need to happen in three complementary intersecting
streams, however: policy, worker self-advocacy, and community assistance.
Process and Policy as Universal Design
The collective bargaining agreements sampled in my study largely lack a
detailed process for raising disability issues, requesting accommodations, or
securing ADA rights. The first step to having an accommodations process that
works for everyone is to identify a contact person or office for accommodations
and include that information in the CBA, as well as other relevant documents
such as the employee handbook, union website, and human resources brochures.
The principal importance of its inclusion in the CBA is that all employees can
access it with ease, and the agreement has binding effects. If mechanisms for
accommodation are too dense or unwieldy to be in the CBA, they should at least
be encapsulated somewhere else and revisited with consistency, just as technol-
ogy is also constantly evaluated for the access needs it addresses and the new
barriers it might pose. Unions and employers, as part of their documentation
process, should look at their websites and social networking tools, too, to ensure
that they meet accessibility standards because they might be the first stop for
workers with concerns.66
These ideas of process, therefore, are twofold: creating a thoughtful, under-
standable process for dealing with disability issues in the workplace when it
comes to accommodation or other discrimination concerns, and making univer-
sal design considerations at the heart of any evaluation of the suitability of new
technology procurements or modifications. When size and resources allow, both
the employer and local union should have an accommodations coordinator of
some kind that keeps up to date on disability law, perhaps as a larger set of duties
relating to health insurance, leave, and EEOC compliance.67
Worker Self-Advocacy
My suggestions so far seem to point in the direction of the onus being on
employers and unions. Workers with disabilities, however, have critical roles in
increasing knowledge about the ADA, disability as a lived experience, and the
potential relevance of disability issues to all workers—currently disabled or not.
Depending on the length of their impairment and their social environment,
workers with disabilities might not have extensive knowledge about their legal
rights, disability as a civil rights movement, or opportunities for brainstorming
with other similarly situated workers.68 One way to increase worker knowledge
is to ensure the transparent processes suggested earlier, combined with including
disability as a valued issue in all diversity efforts (e.g., training, materials, vision
statements), and providing outlets, such as affinity groups, for workers with
disabilities.69 They should have access to a list of local and national disability
resources, such as the Department of Justice’s ADA Information Line,70 the Job
Accommodation Network’s reasonable accommodation assistance service and
database,71 the state assistive technology project,72 the state’s protection and
advocacy organization,73 state vocational rehabilitation services,74 and any local
independent living centers for people with disabilities.75 The crafting of this kind
of short, accessible document that is updated regularly is also a valuable resource
for human resources, union leaders, and others with a stake in promoting
workplace harmony.
Workers with disabilities will become better self-advocates, as they are
encouraged to share their disability perspectives, to “be out,” and to lead in the
union and the workplace.76 While one worker should not be considered to speak
for everyone, changing the face of shop leadership on the ground can make a
difference in general comfort and acceptance levels among coworkers when it
comes to disability issues.77 Through the development of relationships with
community groups that are experts on disability, employers and unions can
encourage workers with disabilities to attend technology expos and assistive
technology demonstrations so that they can be valuable, current resources on
the best accommodation solutions to increase their comfort and productivity at
work.78 Becoming self-experts ensures that workers will better understand what
they need and can then communicate those needs clearly to unions and employ-
ers. Finally, in partnering with community organizations that have technology
readily accessible to disabled workers, all individuals concerned can form a team
to reduce the costs and delays associated with accommodations. In adopting
these accommodations, they might find themselves promoting the advancement
and refinement of technology that could be useful to nondisabled workers, too.79
One excellent example of this phenomenon is the “mainstreaming” of speech
recognition software, formerly used by people with vision, learning, or physical
disabilities as a substitute for typing.
Basas: Technology as Disability Access 77
Community Collaboration
As technology becomes of increasing importance to guaranteeing the inclu-
sion of people with disabilities in society, particularly at work, unions, and
employers should not feel as if they are signaling, or admitting to, ineptitude by
seeking the assistance of disability specialists. Many free resources exist in the
community, and consultants can advise on a range of matters from financial
assistance with accommodations to emerging technologies and their accessibil-
ity. Rather than being strained, these community supports …

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