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Accommodating Workers with Physical or Mobility Disabilities

Under the employment standard of the AODA, employers must accommodate workers who have physical or mobility disabilities. Employers and coworkers can easily learn how to make the workplace accessible for workers with physical or mobility disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, amputations, and muscular or neurological conditions that affect mobility.

Workers will be able to explain what their individual needs are and which accommodations, if any, they require.

Accommodating Workers with Physical or Mobility Disabilities

Assistive Devices and Service Animals

Some workers may use mobility devices to get to and around the workplace. For instance, these devices include:

  • Canes
  • Crutches
  • An orthotic brace
  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Scooters
  • Walkers
  • Manual or power wheelchairs

Some workers may always use assistive devices. Others may never use them, use them for part of the time, or use them for specific tasks, such as when they are fatigued or travelling long distances.

Workers may also have service animals, which help people perform tasks, such as regaining balance, retrieving dropped or out-of-reach items, or opening doors. Owners are trained to work with their animals, which learn how to behave in public places where non-service-animals are not allowed. Employers and coworkers should never touch an assistive device or service animal without its owner’s permission.

Invisible Physical Disabilities

Workers who do not use assistive devices or service animals may identify as having an invisible physical disability. They may have difficulty with tasks, such as standing, walking, balance, climbing stairs, or travelling long distances. Workers should choose whether or not to disclose their disabilities.  Furthermore, they should choose which colleagues, if any, they wish to disclose to.

General Communication Tips

Look at and speak to a worker with a physical disability directly instead of addressing a colleague or support person.

Employers or coworkers who think a worker might need help should ask instead of automatically assuming that the worker does. The worker will be best able to describe what kind of help is needed.

It is acceptable to use language or figures of speech relating to walking or grasping things or to offer to shake hands. If workers are uncomfortable with any of these behaviours, they will suggest alternatives.

Words and phrases like “immobile”, “wheelchair-bound”, or “confined to a wheelchair” are inappropriate since wheelchairs and other mobility devices promote users’ freedom of movement.

Employers or colleagues who are talking to a worker in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes should sit down to be at eye level.

When giving directions, think about routes without stairs, sharp curbs, or steep hills. Some workers may need more time to traverse longer distances, while others will find outdoor travel more difficult in rain and snow.

Travelling To and Around the Workplace

Some workers will drive, possibly using vehicles equipped with hand controls or left foot gas pedals, and will require accessible parking spaces. In contrast, others will arrive using public transit or a para-transit service. In addition, workers’ routes to, into, through and between work buildings, especially locations like washrooms, lunch rooms, or break rooms, must be accessible. Some workers will need level or ramped entrances or automatic doors. Others will require that their workstations be near these locations and any machines they use on a regular basis. Some workers may always use elevators or stair lifts to navigate between floors, while others may need rest breaks after climbing stairs or walking across a building. Hallways and open areas should be wide and obstacle-free.

Accessibility at Work Stations

Some workers may need their desks to be at a certain height. They may use height-adjustable tables or have desks raised on wooden blocks. They may also arrange files or supplies at heights they can reach. Some may avoid high or low drawers or shelves. Workers who use machines may need to operate them from a seated position, with hand controls rather than pedals, or by voice control. Some people may use a telephone with voice activation, large buttons, automatic dialing, a holder for the receiver, or a headset. To help with reading, some workers may use page turners or book holders.

There are many writing and typing devices to assist workers with physical or mobility disabilities. For instance, they may use:

  • Writing grip aids
  • A large-key keyboard
  • Keyguards
  • A one-handed keyboard
  • A touchpad or touchscreen with a stylus
  • An ergonomic keyboard or mouse
  • An adjustable keyboard tray
  • Wrist supports
  • A foot mouse
  • A trackball
  • A joystick
  • Speech recognition software
  • A head pointing system (a device that controls a computer through head or eye movement or facial muscles)
  • A mouthstick

Scheduling Work Hours

Workers may benefit from a variety of scheduling accommodations, such as:

  • A longer work day with lengthened or more frequent breaks
  • A compressed work week
  • Remote work, either permanently or for part of the time

Some workers may have attendants come in at times to assist with personal care needs.

Finally, employers who consider accommodating workers with physical or mobility disabilities will discover a multitude of job candidates eager to exercise their diverse talents for workplaces that make themselves accessible.