Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, campus officials must ensure that workers who need reasonable medical accommodation to do their jobs get it.
Doing so keeps the university in good graces with federal authorities, helps the campus meet diversity goals championed by Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise and saves money in the long run.
But there's another reason for following those rules, which increasingly include regulations regarding workplace health and safety issues:
"It's the right thing to do," said Michal Hudson, the campus' senior Title IX and ADA specialist in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Access.
She said her office has extended that sentiment to the growing number of worker requests for standing workstations and supports the change in office culture that is forcing everyone to rethink how work affects health - and vice versa.
"We're trying to educate departments and units to look at the culture of diversity, and to think about the long-term impact," she said. "The University of Illinois has always been at the forefront of these issues, and it's an area where we'd like to continue to lead. It's important to have these conversations."
The idea ultimately is to form a campus network of employees looking out for each other - not just making personal workspace recommendations, but offering campuswide fixes that further the ideals of inclusiveness and fairness.
"It's a matter of how we start looking at things," she said. "It can take a long time and work to change a culture; if it doesn't impact us personally, we don't think about it much. I hope people become more willing to think outside the box, keeping in mind that all people with differences bring different things to the party."
She said most employees, including departmental financial managers, are surprised to find that simple, cost-effective accommodations can be made for just about any worker for any "functional limitation" including seating, desktop access and general office navigation.
"It's been my experience that most reasonable accommodations cost less than $500," she said, "and many workspace accommodations can be made for anywhere from $200 to $400."
In the interest of collaboration, she said anyone with workspace problems should contact their department's human resources officer, who in turn can contact her office to begin the Reasonable Accommodation process outlined in the ADA's amendments act.
The cost of the accommodation is borne by the department. She said the cost usually is "a pittance," considering that even a small workplace adjustment can renew and enhance an employee's mobility and productivity.
Most of the increase in standing workstation requests is low-back related, she said, and accommodation certification can be obtained with the support of a doctor's definitive diagnosis.
Non-health related requests are handled by local human resources officials; disability-related requests can lead to a workplace assessment or ergonomic evaluation through the safety and compliance division of Facilities and Services. The assessment is designed to produce easily implemented, common-sense recommendations, which can lead to an official reasonable accommodation.
If an employee isn't satisfied with the university's response, he or she can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting further investigation.
"The requests for reasonable accommodations have increased in the last few years," she said, which have led to more meaningful discussions about the process, our institutional responsibility and remediation.
"The solution depends on what individuals need and why they need it. My message is, there are solutions out there - don't ever be afraid to ask for a change." She said the issue belongs in the conversation over diversity.
"We employ persons now whom you wouldn't have thought to hire 10 years ago," she said, "and that's a great thing. People think differently and the process allows everyone to consider things that may not have been considered otherwise. It benefits everyone and gives everyone a fair shot."