Universal Design Practices to Enhance Work Outcomes

A NIDRR Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project (UDDRRP)

Principal Investigator: Jon Sanford
Co-Investigators: Fran Harris, Maureen Linden, Karen Milchus, Harshall Mahajan, Nathan Moon


The goal of the DRRP is to increase knowledge about, availability of and access to Universal Design (UD) accommodations to enable employees with disabilities to participate fully in the workplace, enjoy enhanced employment outcomes and have equal opportunities for advancement.

To accomplish this goal, Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) is:

  1. Developing and validating the Workplace Accommodation Rating System (WARS), a set of standards and a new rating system for UD accommodations based on the Commercial Building Standards developed by IDEA Center for the Global Universal Design;
  2. Expanding the Work RERC's Workplace Participation Survey (WPS), originally developed and validated for workers who use wheelchairs in an office setting, to include workers with all types of limitations, including vision, hearing, mobility, dexterity, speech, and cognition in multiple work settings;
  3. Describing the relationship between employer accommodation practices and work outcomes;
  4. Identifying the salient UD accommodation practices that are associated with positive work outcomes for employees with disabilities; and
  5. Identifying needs and opportunities, and developing and disseminating materials about accommodation policies and practices.

Overall, the research will enhance our understanding and develop an important evidence base that demonstrates the potential benefits of universal design accommodations not only in meeting both activity and participation needs of employees with disabilities but also promoting positive work outcomes in job satisfaction and productivity.

Such information is crucial to practice and policy decisions that recognize the importance of multiple dimensions of work as both an individual and social experience as well as the contributions of the work environment in shaping that experience.

This evidence is essential for laying the foundation for improved practices, policies and perceptions regarding accommodations for individuals with disabilities and adoption of universal design practices by policymakers, rehabilitation professionals, and employers.


Related Research Papers and Presentations

  1. Milchus K., Phillips C., Bunn D., Endicott, S., Harris, F., Holder, T., Linden, M., Persaud, L., Satterfield, R., and Wilson, R. "Work Access: The Developmentof Workplace Accomodation Decision Trees", in proceedings of the RESNA 2020 Conference. Washington, D.C. 

  2. Milchus K., Sanford J., Harris F., Linden M., Mahajan H., and Moon N. (2020, September).“The Impact Of Equitable Design On Workplace Outcomes”, in Proceedings of the RESNA 2020 Conference. Washington, D.C.

  3. Mahajan, H., Milchus, K., Harris, F., Linden, M., Moon, N., & Sanford, J.A. (2019, June). "Do Coworker Interactions Impact Workplace Participation of People with Disabilities", in Proceedings of the RESNA 2019 Conference. Toronto, Canada.
  4. Milchus, K., Harris, F., Linden, M., Mahajan, H., Moon, N., and Sanford, J. (2019, April). "Findings from the Universal Design Practices to Enhance Work Outcomes Project." Presentation at the NARRTC 2019 Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.
  5. Harris F., Sanford J., Milchus K., Moon N., Linden M., and Mahajan H. (2016, May) "Development of the Workplace Participation Survey."  2016 National Association of Rehabilitation Research Training Centers (NARRTC) Conference, Alexandria, VA.
  6. Yang, H.Y.; Harris, F.; and Sanford, J. (2011). "Supporting Workplace Participation: Effects of Job Accommodations." Presented at the "Update from the RERC on Workplace Accommodations" panel session. 2011 RESNA / FICCDAT Conference, Toronto, Canada.
  7. Yang, H., Harris, F., Sanford, J. (2011, Apr.). "Supporting Participation in the Workplace: Effects of Job Accommodations."  AOTA 91st Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA.
  8. Yang, H.Y.; Harris, F.; and Sanford, J. (2010). "The Impact of Job Accommodations on the Participation of Employees with Mobility Disabilities in the Workplace." International Conference on Aging, Disability and Independence (ICADI), Newcastle, UK.


Workplace Participation Survey (WPS) Toolkit

The WPS is a self-report instrument for employees that can be used to collect information about their interactions with the physical and social environment of the workplace, including barriers and facilitators to workplace participation and activity performance. The tool is applicable to employees with a variety of impairments including vision, hearing, mobility, manipulation, speech, and cognition in a variety of work settings.


Workplace Accommodation Rating System and Standards (WARSS)

The WARSS captures types of physical environment and social environment universal design (UD) features that are used in the workplace and assigns a rating system to each to quantify its level of universal design. The physical environment section not only asks about the employee's individual workspaces, but also areas where collaboration (and possibly workplace participation) occur, such as meeting rooms, the workspace of supervisors, and break rooms. The social environment section supplements this information in a unique manner. UD is typically thought of in terms of physical characteristics (e.g., having an automatic door opener), however the inclusion of this section allows us to also note social characteristics that support accessibility for all (e.g., staff remembering to leave an interior door propped open).

The WARSS is structured so that subjects can answer a shorter version that focuses on the overarching UD principle of Equity in Use, or a longer version that also addresses the other principles such as Perceptible Information and Low Physical Effort.

Additional information about use of these instruments will be made available on request.