Reasonable accommodations: Lessons from the gridiron

Jason Pierre-Paul is among the mere 1.6 percent of college football players gifted enough to make it to the National Football League. Pierre-Paul, better known as JPP, is a pass-rushing defensive lineman for the New York Giants. In layman’s terms, he makes a living – a darn good one – making life difficult for the opposing team’s quarterback.

Sample reasonable accommodations
Injury Accommodation
A warehouse worker with a shoulder injury had trouble reaching material overhead. Storage areas were rearranged so heavy and frequently used materials were accessed at waist level.
A forklift driver with rheumatoid arthritis had difficulty grasping the steering wheel. The forklift was fitted with a spinner ball to eliminate the need for grasping.
A data entry clerk was having difficulty sitting for long periods due to his back impairment. He was accommodated with a sit/stand workstation, an ergonomic chair and a copy holder.
A medical technician who was deaf could not hear the buzz of a timer, which was necessary for specific laboratory tests. An indicator light was attached to the equipment.
A police dispatcher with heart disease had fatigue, which worsened when he did not keep a regular sleep schedule. He was accommodated with a dayshift instead of having to rotate shifts.
Credit: Job Accommodation Network

Like anyone who ascends to the game’s highest level, JPP has worked hard all his life, and he can spend his money on whatever he sees fit. And that’s exactly what he did last summer, when he purchased a U-Haul van full of fireworks for a Fourth of July party at his home.

Despite sage advice from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, JPP orchestrated the show himself rather than hiring a professional. And that was just fine until a bottle rocket exploded in his hand. Witnesses say a green and white light instantly swallowed JPP’s 6′ 5″, 278-pound frame.

If you follow the game even marginally, you know JPP survived the ordeal relatively intact, with one notable exception. Doctors had to amputate his right index finger, as well as part of his thumb and middle finger.

When you spend the better part of your life learning to use your hands to move opposing players out of your path, losing even one digit is devastating. So it’s no surprise JPP panicked in the aftermath of the accident.

It’s not that he can’t do his job anymore. He just has to learn how to do it differently. And that is the perfect jumping off spot for two key points:

  1. Your employees’ personal lives inevitably carry over into their work lives.
  2. Injured employees might not be able to return to their normal duties immediately, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to productivity. You might be able to work with the treating doctor to come up with reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job, the work environment or processes that enable a person to work. For JPP, that means a wrist strap fitted with hooks to help him lift weights and a glove custom-fitted for his right hand.

The adaptive devices industry grows every day, so it’s easier than ever to identify and implement reasonable accommodations. Some are simple, and some require creative thinking.

Basic solutions include one-handed keyboards to accommodate hand injuries, chairs that allow workers with spinal conditions to alter sitting positions, software that increases text size for people with visual impairments, and adjustable-height work surfaces.

Advanced solutions include re-engineered packaging machines, modified cutting devices and lightweight, plastic dumpster lids. The only limits on adaptive devices are our own imagination and the laws of physics. It’s all about finding what works for your employee. And that’s where they can help.

Texas Mutual return-to-work specialists recommend employers collaborate with their employees to identify reasonable accommodations. Employees know their jobs better than anyone, and they are in the best position to tell you what will work for them.

Reasonable accommodations can be costly in the beginning, but they ultimately pay off for employees and the bottom line. If return-to-work sounds like a worthy investment for your business, take advantage of the free resources you have access to.

Texas Mutual’s website includes a comprehensive guide to implementing all aspects of a return-to-work program. The Texas Department of Insurance also offers a range of free material on its website.

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