Program helps disabled workers, ensures 'reasonable accommodations'
July 21, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Just like other federal employees, veterans with service-connected disabilities making the transition from the military to civilian employment are guaranteed "reasonable accommodations" in the workplace.
That means that people with disabilities are ensured a fair and equal chance at prospective jobs, based on their abilities not their disabilities, said Ron Vitiello, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Equal Employment Opportunity specialist and disability program manager.
Describing a person with a disability as "one who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity; and/or has a record of such an impairment; and/or is regarded as having such an impairment," Vitiello said the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments Act of 2008, and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides for a range of support, or "reasonable accommodations," which are aimed at enabling employees with disabilities to accomplish their jobs.
"This is not about lowering standards," said Vitiello to a group of Wiesbaden Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers during an information session in the Community Activity Center June 29. The intent is to ensure that all candidates for a prospective job are provided equal employment opportunity - that the most qualified individual is hired, he said.
"Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications which range from making the physical work environment accessible, to restructuring a job, providing assistive equipment, certain types of personal assistants, transferring an employee to a different job or location, or providing flexible scheduling," Vitiello explained.
Just like all employees are provided with the means to do their jobs, the reasonable accommodations program calls for employers to provide tools to enable employers with disabilities to do their jobs.
An example of this, Vitiello said, would be giving a visually impaired worker a computer operating with voice commands or a computer screen with enlarged print.
"Reasonable accommodations will be provided to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so poses an undue hardship on the agency," he said.
Employees of the U.S. Army and other federal agencies are covered under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. State and city employees are covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Vitiello told the WTU Soldiers.
As of 1998, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to include Section 508 which requires that all electronic and informational technology developed, procured, maintained and used by the federal government be accessible to individuals with disabilities. That includes everything from Internet applications to office equipment.
As part of reasonable accommodations an employee, his or her medical provider, representative or a family member can make a request from the supervisor or another manager in the immediate chain of command. That can be either verbal or in writing, although Vitiello said it is in the requestor's best interest to have a written record of the request.
"Once a request has been made to the supervisor, he needs to acknowledge the request and give you a time frame for when it can be accomplished," said Vitiello.
The requestor may be required to provide medical documentation about a disability and associated limitations, but the supervisor/manager cannot ask for a complete medical record of the employee, he said. Medical information must also be kept confidential, Vitiello said.
The employee should show how the reasonable accommodation will improve his or her work situation.
The Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit asked Vitiello several questions about their rights in the workplace such as whether they must disclose disability information and whether they can be fired later on the job for not having disclosed information about a disability.
He assured them that the laws are aimed at protecting their rights to privacy and equal employment opportunity, although an employer can ask if they would require a reasonable accommodation if needed to accomplish a job, and a person might want to disclose information about a medical condition if a reasonable accommodation will be needed during the application process or later on the job.
For more information about reasonable accommodations resources people can visit www.jan.wvu.edu. For details on the Computer Accommodations Program visit the garrison home page at www.wiesbaden.army.mil and click on the Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program link under Helpful Links.
Information is also available through the USAG Wiesbaden EEO Office by calling Ron Vitiello at mil 337-5616 or Therese Ayers at mil 337-5610.