One important way for employers to address cases of discrimination is for employers to incorporate providing reasonable accommodations into their standard operating procedures (SOPs) at all stages of employment – from advertising, to hiring, to protocols pertaining to maintaining and advancing in employment.
The CRPD defines reasonable accommodations as “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
The concept of reasonable accommodations is essential to promoting equality and non-discrimination for persons with disabilities and this is evident in its repeated emphasis throughout the CRPD. For example:
In the context of employment and the workplace, reasonable accommodations may be defined simply as: necessary modifications or adjustments that enable persons with disabilities to perform the tasks of a given job.
examples of reasonable accommodation include flexible working arrangements such as work from home, the utilisation of screen readers or sign language interpreters, receiving documents in alternative formats, installation of ramps, allowance of various means of communications, hybrid means of conversing/meetings, etc. Reasonable accommodations are not “special advantages” but rather required means for persons with disabilities to perform tasks on a level playing field to non-disabled persons.
As noted in its definition, reasonable accommodations do not impose an undue burden and are often if not always practical and do not only benefit persons with disabilities but also other demographics such as working parents, pregnant women, etc.
The pandemic has underscored this with flexible work arrangements and work from home accommodations. It is now common to hear about the benefits of work-from-home accommodations. Many employers have continued work-from-home protocols even after such mandates have been lifted in Singapore – with many of such employers and employees citing better ease in balancing professional and personal commitments leading to better productivity – with up to 50% of individuals and up to 73% of women saying that flexible work arrangements should be the new norm according to a paper released in April 2022 by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).
However, prior to the pandemic, persons with disabilities often had to fight hard for accommodations such as work from home measures. DPA has heard accounts of individuals with disabilities expressing frustration regarding how a number of the same jobs and positions they were denied from prior to the pandemic primarily because of work-from-home requests were suddenly being made into work-from-home positions during the pandemic. Many of such individuals with disabilities have also commented that they fear such accessibilities that have been mainstreamed during the pandemic such as work-from-home accommodations and other hybrid accommodations such as online meetings will fade as Singapore recovers from the pandemic.
Such examples illustrate that often what is thought to be an unreasonable accommodation is in fact reasonable and not only beneficial to persons with disabilities but also other demographics and populations.
What counts as “reasonable”?
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has noted that it is difficult to make the case that an accommodation request is unreasonable or that an accommodation request presents an “undue burden” if there are the presence of one or both of the following:
- The provision of funding to cover, totally or partially, costs related to reasonable accommodation;
- The provision of technical assistance to all relevant stakeholders and in particular to employers and persons with disabilities on the concept of reasonable accommodation,
In other words, an accommodation request is reasonable and does not present an undue burden if there are funding sources available for any financial cost of the accommodation and if the employer has access to disability experts to assist in the implementation and adaptation of the accommodation.
In the Singapore context, employers have access to both.
In Singapore, for reasonable accommodation requests that incur more financial costs such as the installation of more expensive ramps or the purchase of more expensive assistive technologies, employers can tap on one of three of the following options:
- The Open Door Programme (ODP): Under the ODP, employers can apply for grants such as the Job Redesign Grant to purchase assistive equipment or install workplace modifications – amongst other grants.
- The Assistive Technology Fund (ATF): Under the ATF, subsidies up to 90% of assistive technologies can be provided if there is a disabled employee who requires such technologies for work-related purposes.
- Accessibility Fund: Under the Accessibility Fund, building owners, lessors who have the ownership right to upgrade the building and/or lessees who can carry out the upgrading works with the endorsement of the building owners/lessors are eligible to receive grants to upgrade areas within their building with essential accessibility and universal design features.
In addition to technical assistance from the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that is available upon ratification of the CRPD, there exists technical assistance within Singapore from SGEnable and other disability organisations such as DPA and from independent disability advocates.