Over the past several decades, the U.S. government has enacted legislation to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including the workplace. Disabilities include limited hearing or sight, limited mobility (walking, standing) and other physical, mental or emotional conditions.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Jobs that rely on physical demands for essential tasks -- such as firefighters, construction workers and flight attendants -- cannot be adapted for mobility-impaired personnel and are not subject to ADA guidelines.
For positions that are subject to ADA guidelines, workers must request reasonable accommodation from their employer, specifying that it is because of a medical disability. The request should pertain to the ability to do the job: Asking to get the corner office because you like the view better is not a reasonable request for accommodation, but asking for a workspace or office that is big enough to accommodate your motorized wheelchair is appropriate.
Some steps employers can take to equalize access in the workplace is to modify work stations to allow the use of wheelchairs; improve physical access to the workplace when financially feasible; and change work hours to allow for transportation and medical appointments. With the use of accessory aids and modifications to the worksite, many mobility-impaired individuals can hold down productive jobs, maintain their self-esteem and support themselves and their families. Disability.gov offers employers a free online training video on reasonable accommodation solutions under the resources section of their website.
Any worker might experience age-related limits to his or her mobility over time. Employers who can accommodate for loss of mobility and other disabilities have a unique advantage of retaining an employee who has years of experience to apply to any company task and can assume supervisory and planning roles that do not require the same physical demands.
Some of the positions considered prime for mobility-impaired workers include freelance consulting gigs, accounting and bookkeeping positions, switchboard operators, customer service representatives, telephone sales, computer support, marketing and surveys, data entry, proofreading, freelance writing and online auctioneering. Consulting jobs can make use of the employee's prior work experience. Sales jobs in the mobility industry often work well, because the employee's personal experience with aids and resources help with meeting customer needs. Since the government mandated that reasonable accommodations be made those same government offices often can provide several accessible jobs, as well.
Some employers, especially those with whom the employee had a previous relationship, may be able to arrange telecommuting positions. While many mobility-impaired individuals can make transportation arrangements to go to and from the office, working at home is a convenient option, as there is less strain and coordination for the employee and the employer has fewer physical changes to make in the workplace.
For more information about the ADA, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Its website is at http://www.eeoc.gov.