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Friedreich's, the best known inherited ataxia, and other cerebellar ataxias are impairments of the nervous system, most of which are inherited. They share many of the same symptoms, including unsteadiness and inability to coordinate movement. Friedreich`s Ataxia usually reveals itself in childhood while cerebellar ataxia is diagnosed more often in adults. A majority of individuals with ataxia use mobility aids and have difficulty with their speech, although mental abilities are unaffected. Other ataxias are idiopathic, that is, they just occur.
Ataxia and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Ataxia
People with ataxia may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with ataxia will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A bakery employee with ataxia was stumbling during her shift.
She was self-accommodating with a store shopping cart, but space was limited. The employer purchased a small rollator to help the employee maintain balance while working.
A newspaper reporter with ataxia had difficulty taking notes and processing auditory input during interviews.
The employee had been using recording devices, but called JAN looking for more ideas. The JAN consultant explained the use of the Smart Pen, which was eventually provided as a workplace accommodation.
An employee with ataxia worked in a hotel laundry department.
They were having trouble pulling out the wet bedding and towels from the washing machines. A JAN consultant suggested a simple fix consisting of only pulling small amounts of laundry out at a time and a low stool to limit the bending down movements which was causing dizziness.
A secretary with ataxia was having speech difficulties when speaking on the telephone.
She called JAN looking for accommodation ideas before her performance suffered. A JAN consultant explained speech generative devices with telephone access and the employee was going to request that as a reasonable accommodation.
A writer for a non-profit called JAN looking for accommodations for their ataxia.
They experiences fine motor limitations that made it hard to mouse and keyboard. The JAN consultant sent the employee links to various vendor lists for alternative input devices, which the employee later requested as a reasonable accommodation.