Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
With adjustments to the working environment, many persons with disabilities are capable of performing in a variety of jobs. Many workplace barriers can be removed for persons with disabilities with reasonable accommodation/adjustments.
Workplace barriers include:
- Inaccessible premises, facilities, and work equipment.
- Rigid job structure and requirements.
- Heavy reliance on speech to communicate.
- Documents and information presented in inaccessible ways.
- Lack of flexibility in work schedule and leave policies.
- Inaccessible training programmes.
- Assessments and evaluations that implicitly favours non-disabled people.
A reasonable accommodation that is effective for one employee with disability may not be suitable for another employee with disability. Hence, it is important to plan with the employee with disability to work out a reasonable adjustment that meets the person’s needs and is acceptable for both parties.
Although duty to provide reasonable accommodation is not yet mandated for employers in Malaysia, it is good practice for employers to do so to support persons with disabilities to work in an enabling and conducive environment.
Many reasonable accommodations do not cost a lot, are minor changes and easy to put in place.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace
Some common reasonable accommodations in the workplace include, but are not limited to:
- Flexible work hours and option to work from home.
- Frequent and flexible break time.
- Alternative ways to communicate information, such as using visuals, in writing,
- Braille, sign language (Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia – BIM), etc.
- Allowing the use of headphones or reducing background noise to minimise distraction.
- Providing accessible workspace, equipment, bathrooms, parking, ramps, etc
- Modifying work structure or work flow.
Important note: any reasonable adjustments made must be individualised to the needs of the employee with disability.
The links below provide more examples of adjustments that employers can make to support persons with disabilities in the workplace:
30 examples of workplace accommodations you can put into practice by Understood, US
Types of Reasonable Accommodation by Office of Disability Rights, District of Columbia, US
Workplace Adjustments: Examples of Reasonable Adjustments in Practice (UK Context) by Equality and Human Rights Commission, UK
Challenges in Securing Reasonable Accommodation
For many persons with disabilities, especially individuals with invisible disabilities, obtaining reasonable accommodation is not an easy nor smooth process. Workplace ableism is real and it makes requesting and obtaining reasonable accommodation challenging, if not impossible.
Especially for persons with invisible disabilities, obtaining reasonable accommodation means that they have to disclose their disability. However, they may not feel comfortable or psychologically safe to do so. This is because they fear further discrimination and prejudice from their employers and colleagues, such as being seen as incompetent or weak, being humiliated, and being overlooked for promotion.
Employers need to help employees with disabilities feel safe to talk about their disability and request for reasonable accommodation. Addressing ableism and disability discrimination in their workplace culture is crucial. Much work is needed to transform the mainstream work culture, which overvalues productivity , to one that values diversity and inclusion.
Requesting for Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace
Although provisions for reasonable accommodation in the workplace is not yet mandated in Malaysia, some understanding employers do so when they understand its importance to persons with disabilities.
Adjustments that are easy to implement and do not cost much are more easily obtained. Employers may also find it helpful if they are given suggestions of adjustments that will work for the employee with disability.
Some employees with disabilities may need more than one reasonable accommodations. In this case, it may be helpful to prioritise the employee’s needs and make requests one at a time. Ideally, choose the adjustment that will make the largest impact to the employee with disability with immediate effect.
For example, a wheelchair-user who also has chronic pain will need flexible and frequent breaks to manage pain more than having a disability-accessible parking space, which is not yet available at the premise. Or, a person who has reading disability will need visuals to understand workflow and know where things are placed, more than job restructuring, which can be done gradually.
*Note: Resources linked are in English and pdf or webpage format, unless stated otherwise.