Understanding Disabilities

From the US Environmental Protection Agency web site:

Many people tend to think of disabilities in absolutes: can see or can't, can hear or can't. However, disabilities take a variety of forms and many times may not be readily apparent. It is estimated that approximately 54 million Americans have some type of disability. Also, disabilities may not be permanent. For example: An employee may need temporary accommodation after surgery or while recovering from an accident.

Some common disabilities include:

Visual Disabilities (Blind, Low-Vision, Color-Blind, etc...)
Persons identified as blind or having low vision all fit the definition of legal blindness. The term legal blindness covers many aspects of the use of eyesight. It covers individuals that may need to hold print material closer to read or a person that has vision to see where he or she is going, but not to read regular printed documents or the average computer screen. The person's usable vision and whether he or she can read print, needs to use speech output or Braille will need to be assessed. This category also includes dimness, haziness, color blindness, tunnel vision, cataracts or eyesight problems related to aging.

Auditory Disabilities (Deaf and Hard of Hearing)
Choosing appropriate communication accommodations for employees, who are deaf or hard of hearing, is an important step towards breaking communication barriers in the workplace. It is important to recognize that deaf or hard of hearing individuals have different levels of hearing loss and their communication capabilities vary. An individual's hearing can range from mild, moderate, severe or total loss of hearing. A person might hear sounds, but has difficulty or is unable to comprehend spoken words. Many Deaf people prefer the use of a certified Sign Language interpreter. Some Hard of Hearing people prefer CART services, or "Computer-Assisted Real-Time captioning." The important thing to remember is that accommodations are as unique as each person, and require detailed discussions with the employee.

Speech Disabilities
A person may have a speech disability for a variety of reasons that affects that person's ability to communicate verbally. Speech disabilities may include difficulty with voice strength, fluency, aphasia which may alter how words are articulated or complete voicelessness. Persons with Parkinson's Disease, Cerebral Palsy, or who have suffered a stroke or have an auditory disability are often affected with a speech disability. The accommodations for speech disability will require an assessment and detailed discussions with the employee.

Dexterity Disabilities
Most individuals who have dexterity disabilities have limited or no use of their upper or lower extremities. Individual's can have difficulty with coordination and manual dexterity associated with arthritis, stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, cerebral palsy, or Parkinson's disease, as well as recovering from broken bones. The individual's accommodation is based on the range of motion or ability to move the arm and hand forward, to the side and above the head, the fine and gross dexterity of the fingers such as the ability to hold small and large items and ability to use writing and typing instruments. An evaluation should be done of the current workstation configuration as well as identification of the tools and materials the individual needs to access on a daily basis.

Cognitive Disabilities
Cognitive disabilities cover a wide range of needs and abilities that vary for each specific person. Conditions range from person having a serious mental impairment caused by Alzheimer's disease, Bipolar Disorder or medications to non-organic disorders such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, poor literacy or problems understanding information. At a basic level, these disabilities affect the mental process of knowledge, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Simply put, the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University defines cognitive disability as: "a disability that impacts an individual's ability to access, process, or remember information."

Mobility Disabilities
Motor impairment that limits the mobility of individuals vary for each person. A person may require the use of wheelchairs, canes, crutches, braces, or prostheses which can hinder access to E&IT controls on kiosks or other closed products.