Did you know folks with disabilities make up 25% of the population? You might not have known that if you were looking at the workforce. The unemployment rate for people with a disability is 7.6%, about twice as high as the rate for people without a disability (3.5%). Folks with disabilities are historically underemployed, but all research shows once in the workplace, they are just as productive and reliable as their non-disabled peers (if not more so). What employees with disabilities need to succeed, what every employee needs, is support.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures folks with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. In the most basic sense, reasonable accommodations are the tools and resources employees with disabilities need to be successful at work. In principle, reasonable accommodations are no different than providing employees with a desk, an office chair, and a laptop.
It is a myth that reasonable accommodations are always expensive and make hiring people with disabilities more costly than hiring those without disabilities. The truth is most reasonable accommodation requests cost little or nothing. Even when it involves greater costs, employers must remember that providing reasonable accommodations supports employees in their work. Do successful employers begrudge a skilled machinist the cost of their tools or a valued coder the price of their laptop?
Minnesota launched the Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund (ERAF) on September 1, 2023, to assist small- and medium-sized employers in paying for reasonable accommodations. Administered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, ERAF aims to enable Minnesota employers with 500 employees or fewer – or a gross revenue of $5 million or less – to support their employees through reasonable accommodations. The fund has $1.7 million available per fiscal year.
ERAF can provide funds to businesses interviewing or employing persons with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services
- assistive technology
- workplace adaptive equipment
In addition to the funds, the ERAF program can provide employers with information about:
- the Americans with Disabilities Act and employment
- retaining employees with disabilities
- what can be approved for reasonable accommodations
- how to implement reasonable accommodations
- where to buy equipment for reasonable accommodations
For more information, including how to apply, visit Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund.