Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors’ Knowledge and Practices of Reasonable Accommodations to Increase Employment of Persons with Disabilities
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling
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Americans with disabilities face unemployment rates that are unacceptably high (Krooks, 2011). This high unemployment rate is caused, in part, by employment discrimination against persons with disabilities (EEOC, 2007). The main protection against employment bias against individuals with disabilities in the private sector is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The major tool for increasing employment opportunities for persons with significant disabilities is arguably reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation is a great equalizer. The failure to provide reasonable accommodation to individuals with spinal cord injury, paralysis and related neurological conditions is arguably a clear reason many of these persons have not been able to obtain employment. With proper accommodation, persons with significant disabilities can secure, retain and advance in employment. VR counselors’ possible lack of sufficient knowledge and related practices may be a factor in retention, securement or advancement in employment of those with significant disabilities. The purpose of this study was to identify the level of vocational rehabilitation counselor knowledge and counselor practices related to reasonable accommodations in the workplace for individuals with disabilities and identify elements that contribute to reasonable accommodations. The lack of information on knowledge and practices can be measured through a survey of a random sample of vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors and consumers throughout the various local VR offices in Alabama. In addition, a survey of case law on employer failure to reasonably accommodate can disclose the primary factors that are obstacles to successful receipt of accommodations by individuals with disabilities. The information from counselor and consumer surveys as well as case law data, can be used to create a decision making tree for reasonable accommodation requests. The results of this study revealed that perceptions of counselors’ knowledge of reasonable accommodation vary greatly from an acceptable or desired level of knowledge. Likewise, counselors’ perceptions of their effectiveness in their practices of reasonable accommodations varied greatly from an acceptable or desired level of effective practice. There was a statistically significant difference in counselors’ perception of practices related to workplace reasonable accommodations between counselors who had 30 or more years of experience as a counselor and those who had fewer than nine years of work experience. There was no statistically significant difference in counselors’ perception of practices related to workplace reasonable accommodations based on gender differences and age groups. There was no statistically significant difference in counselors’ perception of practices related to workplace reasonable accommodations based on ethnicity. Qualitative analysis of case law revealed the following reasons for an employer’s failure to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities (not in order of importance): 1. Failure to prove disability, 2. Employee’s failure to request specific accommodation or communicate needs adequately, 3. Employee’s failure to prove “qualified individual with a disability” status, 4. Employee’s failure to accept offered reasonable accommodations and understand process, and 5. Employer’s failure to engage in interactive process or communicate effectively with employee with a disability. The major recommendation of the study was the development of an annual training event for VR counselors on workplace reasonable accommodations to continuously provide VR counselors the most recent data (pertinent case law analysis) and materials regarding reasonable accommodations.