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Best Practices and Accommodations for Various Learning Disabilities

Accommodation is most often legally defined as the extent to which an employer, provider of goods, services or housing available to the general public is required to make modifications that would assist the integration of people with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups, short of undue hardship.

Accommodation Requires Needs Assessment
Here are four steps to take with your employee to assess the need for accommodation:
  1. Determine the purpose and the essential functions of the job.
  2. Establish what kinds of job-related limitations are caused by the disability.
  3. In consultation with the employee, determine what possible accommodations could be considered and how effective each one would be in helping the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
  4. Determine which accommodations the employee would prefer.
Getting The Job Done – Performance, Productivity and Accommodation
Before accommodation strategies can be initiated, it is necessary to define the essential functions of the job. Essential functions are the specific duties necessary to do that particular job.

Defining essential functions calls for analyzing the purpose or goal of the job rather than just listing the tasks the job has usually entailed. This means looking at what you are trying to accomplish, not the way you have always done it. Here are some questions to consider:
  • If a task an employee is sometimes asked to perform is not essential to the job, can you trade it with or reassign it to another employee?
  • Can the way this task is performed be changed?
  • Is this task essential?
  • Is there any equipment or technical device that would aid in the performance of the task?
  • Is there a use of equipment that is absolutely necessary for the economic and safe performance of the task or can it be eliminated?
  • If you are accustomed to the performance of a certain task at a certain time, is that schedule important?
  • Is it imperative that this position be full-time, or can the duties be pared down to accommodate a part-time worker?
  • Must all the tasks be performed at your place of business during your regular business hours?
  •  You should also determine whether the employee can fulfill the job’s requirements in practice, rather than assuming the worst. 
As an employer, you may be vaguely aware of what a learning disability is, and the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, but you may not know how to match an accommodation with an employee’s specific need. Accommodations during the interview and competition refer to making changes to the process to ensure that persons with learning disabilities are able to compete fairly and equitably.

Employers must:
  • be willing to enter into a mutual agreement in offering accommodations;
  • be willing to explore all the options in the types of accommodation needed for the particular interview the candidate is undergoing; and
  • make sure that the accommodation and/or solution is mutually satisfactory.
Persons with learning disabilities must:
  • tell employers what their specific needs are;
  • suggest the kinds of accommodations that will meet their specific needs; and
  • enter into a partnership with the employer, whatever the agreed-upon accommodation.
The following list provides a description of the major types of learning disabilities, along with workplace examples, and solutions in modifying the interviewing process. Solutions offered may in fact be helpful not only during the interview process but also later in the workplace.

1) Information Processing Problems: Auditory Perception Problems
Difficulties in receiving and/or processing accurate information from their sense of hearing. This may be characterized by an inability to hear one sound over background noises or hearing the difference between similar sounds and/or sounds in order. There may be difficulty in remembering a series of commands or instructions or in retrieving stored information.

Examples:
  • difficulties hearing verbal instructions or questions if there are other noises in the room;
  • slowness in responding to verbal questions or instructions;
  • poor information sequencing; and
  • poor listening skills.
Solutions:
  • reduce background noises (telephones ringing, noisy machinery or background conversations);
  • allow sufficient time for instructions or questions to be repeated;
  • let candidates sit near interviewer(s), speak slowly and deliberately, allow time for the candidate to process information;
  • provide written copy of instructions;
  • whenever possible provide a copy of the questions;
  • demonstrate exactly what needs to be done, rather than describing the task; and
  • encourage note-taking.
2) Information Processing Problems: Visual Perception Problems
Difficulties taking in and/or processing information from the sense of sight, which may be characterized by difficulties in seeing specific images or picking out an object and/or in seeing things in the correct order and/or in seeing the difference between two similar objects such as "v" and "u". There may also be difficulties perceiving how far or near objects may be.

Examples:
  • incapacity to find key information provided in written form;
  • inability to pick out one line of print from another;
  • interferes with the ability to read, compute or complete an inventory or a budget;
  • interferes with a person's ability to read as quickly as others;
  • difficulties filling out an application form; and
  • may be clumsy, trip or bump into things.
Solutions:
  • provide a room with minimal physical distractions;
  • provide a written exam in an alternative format such as on tape;
  • provide voice-activated computers for written material;
  • give verbal instructions;
  • provide a talking calculator;
  • provide information on tape; and
  • give time to complete the task.
3) Academic problems
Difficulties in the ability to use language and to express oneself in reading, writing, spelling, and/or mathematics. There may also be difficulties sounding out letters, confusing words that sound similar, and expressing thoughts on paper.

Examples:
  • not able to write exams;
  • frequent spelling and grammar mistakes;
  • unreadable penmanship, poor spelling; and
  • unable to do simple calculations.
Solutions:
  • provide information on tape;
  • provide a computer and/or spell checker;
  • allow extra time for written tests;
  • allow a reader to read test questions aloud;
  • provide verbal instructions that are clear and simple;
  • demonstrate exactly what needs to be done;
  • put the information on tape;
  • use a colour pen to highlight key information or instructions;
  • allow assistive technology (such as audio and visual aids, word processors, spell checkers, proofreading computer programs, voice-activated computers, calculators, tape recorders) to enhance performance;
  • allow more time for reading and writing; and
  • preview information in order to prepare for interview. 

4) Motor, temporal and organizational problems
Difficulties in moving one's body to achieve its goals, perception of time and space, and the sequencing of information.

Examples:
  • difficulty in using the hands while writing;
  • showing a lack of organization in written work;
  • arriving late or unusually early;
  • inaccurate movement such as clumsiness, awkwardness or stiffness;
  • confusion between left and right;
  • difficulty telling time; and
  • tendency to reverse letters and numbers.
Solution:
  • use timers or verbal response as reminders;
  • map information;
  • allow extra time for travel between interviews;
  • use alarms or bells, etc. to signal changes;
  • use visual cue to indicate change;
  • allow candidate to work at their own pace; and
  • allow extra time to process information.
5) Attention Problems
Difficulty sustaining attention during a long period of time characterized by distractibility, inconsistent performance and/or problems focussing on details.

Examples:
  • easily distracted by background noises during an interview;
  • difficulty paying attention to verbal instructions or questions, sometimes not remembering or understanding verbal information; and
  • fidgeting, need to be on the move (feet/pencil tapping).
Solutions:
  • give clear directions in small single units, rather than one long installment;
  • repeat all information several times until understood;
  • allow person to get up and move around at intervals; and
  • allow extra time.
6) Social Skills Problems
Difficulties in assessing one's impact on others, acting impulsively and not having the ability to judge non-verbal body language.

Examples:
  • standing too close;
  • inappropriate body language and/or talking too loudly or too softly; and
  • inability to read facial expressions, body gestures and/or tone of voice.
Solutions:
  • avoid sarcasm, say what you mean;
  • don't expect hints, body gestures to convey information;
  • allow extra time;
  • maintain eye contact; and
  • paraphrase information to convey the message.
Persons with learning disabilities will not require all of the above accommodations, but employers can assist interview candidates and employees by identifying and mutually agreeing upon appropriate accommodation based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Source:
Barriers-free Interviews and Competitions, Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.
 

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