Local businesses make accommodations for wheelchair-bound employee
Accommodations required by law
Americans with Disabilities Act
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make accommodations for employees with disabilities.
The ADA applies to qualified employees, or people with disabilities who can complete the essential functions of their job with or without reasonable accommodation, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Web site (www.eeoc.gov).
"Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities," the Web site states.
Companies usually aren't required to provide reasonable accommodations unless an employee with a disability requests one.
However, under the ADA, these accommodations cannot cause "undue hardship" to the business, or require significant difficulty or cost when weighed against the employer's financial resources, size of his or her work force or other factors.
On the morning of Dec. 19, Bobby Homberg, 29, was hard at work and loving every minute of it.
“I didn’t do this aisle yet,” he said as he peered down a row of merchandise in Walgreens in Craig.
He began plucking outdated blue and white sales stickers from the shelves. A bag sat in his lap for discarded labels as he maneuvered down the aisle in his wheelchair.
Homberg is a client at Horizons Specialized Services, an organization designed to help residents with developmental disabilities.
But that hasn’t stopped him from working.
In late October, he signed on with Walgreens, where he works two hours a week. He also works 10 hours a week at Movie Gallery, where he has been employed for about seven years.
His reason for taking a second job was simple:
“Because I want more money,” he said, a wide grin spreading across his face.
As Homberg went about his work, Marlena O’Leary, a job coach at the Independent Life Center in Craig for the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, walked behind him. She occasionally used a long-handled grabbing device with a clamp at the end to pull off stickers out of Homberg’s reach.
Homberg has taught himself where to find certain products in the store so he can help customers.
His least favorite area of the store: the cosmetics section.
“Makeup’s not my thing,” he said.
Still, knowing the store’s layout is part of Homberg’s customer service skills, which he has learned on the job.
“He loves to work with people,” O’Leary said. “He likes to help them out.
Walgreens Manager Jeremy Mattingley has noticed Homberg’s outgoing personality.
“He’s very friendly,” he said. “My employees love to see him. I love to see him.”
Helping to help himself
Homberg needs a hand now and then.
As he coasted down the aisles at Walgreens, his wheelchair tires squeaking on the floor, O’Leary walked behind him.
“(Job coaches) basically make sure that what (clients are) doing is something that they can do,” she said.
And, in Homberg’s case, those tasks include anything he sets his mind to.
“He likes to do as much as possible,” O’Leary said. “He likes to work.”
Since Homberg started at Walgreens, she has helped him overcome frustration and encouraged him not give up.
From her perspective, he isn’t the only employee who needs a helping hand.
“Truthfully, we’ve all had a job coach at some point,” O’Leary said. “It may have been our mother or father or grandfather or an older brother.”
Fortunately for Homberg, Walgreens has built-in accommodations for him to make adjusting to his new job easier.
The aisles are wide enough for him to move freely in his wheelchair, and shelves are set at a height such that he can reach products easily.
“(Walgreens officials) have been really good to Bobby. : They have things adapted for, not only Bobby, but their customers, as well,” O’Leary said.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. However, employers usually don’t have to provide these adaptations unless requested by an employee, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Web site.
And, in the part of the building marked off for employees, other features are designed with employees such as Homberg in mind.
The time clock is set at a height he can reach with ease, and his locker is narrower and lower than the others, making it easier for him to access.
These kinds of features are custom-built for all Walgreens’ facilities.
“When they (build) the stores, they build them so that we can hire people of all abilities,” Mattingley said.
But Walgreens isn’t the only business that has taken Homberg’s capabilities into account.
Movie Gallery’s store layout is designed so that he or other residents in wheelchairs can navigate the store with ease, Senior Sales Associate Stefanie Nelson said.
She, like Mattingley, also has noticed Homberg’s willingness to work.
“He’s enthusiastic,” she said. “He loves to help the customers out when he’s putting the movies away.”
Saving up for fun
Accommodations made at both stores, combined with Homberg’s desire to earn a living, have allowed him to earn more cash.
The question now is, what does he plan to do with it?
Homberg already has a plan. He’s saving his pennies to buy a jet ski.
Generally, he’s not the jet skiing type, he said, but he added that he might indulge in the sport more if he had his own equipment.
And, if he continues fueling his desire to work and learn new skills, he could make that wish a reality.
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