Promising Practices

Ensure Productivity: Reasonable Accommodation Procedures

In the 2012 report, Federal Agency Employment Strategies: A Framework for Disability Inclusion, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor outlines federal best practices for recruiting, hiring, and advancing people with disabilities. The Ensure Productivity recommendation describes an effective, no frills practice, so that all federal employees can perform at the highest of standards.

Providing reasonable accommodations combines effective written procedures for making and processing requests with a proactive and agile framework. Federal employees with disabilities are routinely informed of their rights to receive accommodations, and have the ability to learn about, select, accept, or reject accommodations to meet their unique needs.

NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) is located in Houston, Texas. JSC has set out to create a seamless process for accommodations, encouraging supervisors and employees alike to recognize the positive effect these can have on overall performance. What follows combines the recommendations from Ensure Productivity with quotes and videos from the JSC federal partners.

A culture of accommodation starts at the top

Senior management must establish proactive policies and procedures that support and reasonably accommodate the individual needs of all federal employees, including employees with disabilities. Managers and disability coordinators routinely offer accommodations to employees, including new innovations that may be an improvement on older technology.

At Johnson Space Center, expectations of all employees are very high. Given the aging workforce, accommodations are offered as a strategy to retain and advance employees with unique skill sets. According to Tracy Minish, Chief Mission Operations Branch of JSC:

"My eyesight has gone down more and more and my management team is very supportive. They've given me all the tools. They've actually come to me and say 'Hey is there anything else you need? Is there anything out there that we can give you?' The main thing I think anybody with a disability wants is a level playing field. All we want is opportunity. Once you give us opportunity then the rest is up to us."

Openly educate and discuss disability, options, and resources

The old saying goes "You don't know what you don't know." Federal managers and human resource professionals must be educated on disability issues and related resources - as do all federal employees. Helpful organizations, such as the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), provide a wealth of resources and opportunities for professional development.

At the JSC, managers and employees benefit from a variety of disability-related educational opportunities that are both planned and in response to new situations. Deborah Henshaw Urbanski, Director, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, JSC commented:

"When managers come to us and say 'I've got an employee who has identified a disability and I would like to educate my entire organization. Could you come and give us some training?' And, we offer things like Respect in the Workplace things that are sort of general, but then we can tweak them just enough so that it speaks to whatever issues might be misunderstood or not communicated in that work area."

Educate and Discuss: Disability, Options and Resources

Educate and Discuss: Disability, Options and Resources Click to watch "Educate and Discuss: Disability, Options and Resources" video

Clearly communicate - and think about your audience

Your organizational policies regarding reasonable accommodations should be clearly available, accessible to all, and thoughtfully communicated. By marketing to specific audiences and organizational cultures, managers, human resources professionals and employees with and without disabilities are more likely to receive and act on policies that advance reasonable accommodations.

The Johnson Space Center leadership brings their employees together in large and small groups regularly for awards and presentations. Building on this tradition, Beth Nguyen, the Associate Director at the Human Resources Office of JSC, described one way in which outreach is conducted to increase awareness and acceptance:

"There are certain outreach activities, some of them as simple as finding some nationally known figure that has a disability and bringing them over here to our large auditorium and having him or her give a talk. It helps the whole population recognize that if you're in a wheelchair or if you are blind it doesn't mean that your brain doesn't work and NASA's always looking for smart people and always interested in listening to smart people."

Streamline the accommodation process

From the federal employee's point of view, requesting reasonable accommodations should be like hitting the easy button. A centralized source of funding for accommodations, combined with an accountable and responsive administrative structure, will facilitate a smooth, predictable process and a successful track record. By offering choice, availability, and selection, your agency will help ensure that all federal employees can be productive team members.

JSC managers work in collaboration with federal employees regarding potential accommodations. Here, there is a shared responsibility and an ongoing dialogue: providing necessary tools, and avoiding unnecessary gadgets. Equal Opportunity Specialist David Powell of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity spoke to the active administrative support that exists at the JSC for reasonable accommodations.

"I've never had a single conversation where someone asked 'Is this going to be a problem for us financially?' The conversations were always about 'How do we provide this person with the accommodation? Can we provide this? Is this absolutely what this person needs? Let's make sure to get this person exactly what they need. Let's talk to this person talk to whoever and make sure that this is the right type of equipment that this individual needs.' It wasn't about the money."