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Program Manager Discusses Reasonable Accommodation

By Eddy Ball
November 2006

Carlton Coleman
Speaker Carlton Coleman. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bruce Wiggins Cindy Garrard and Lisa Rogers
DIR Administrative Officers Bruce Wiggins, Cindy Garrard and Lisa Rogers listen as Coleman makes a point about what is "reasonable" in terms of accommodations for employees with handicaps. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Carlton Coleman and Terry Nesbett
After the talk, Coleman discussed an individual question with Terry Nesbett, an administrator with the DERT Scientific Review Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As part of Disability Awareness Month activities, NIH OEODM Disability Program Manager Carlton Coleman addressed a group of NIEHS employees October 17 in Rodbell C. His talk, titled "Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace," addressed the diverse needs of his mixed audience. Coleman spoke to the concerns of employees with physical and mental challenges, employee advocates, and individuals in management positions or with aspirations to join the ranks of management.

Coleman began his talk with an overview and examples designed to sensitize the audience to the hierarchy of needs experienced by people with disabilities. "People want to be seen as people first - not as their disabilities," he said. An amputee as the result of a freak accident when he helped a stranded motorist one night, Coleman spoke from experience. "I thought nothing could happen to me," he observed. "Then suddenly I was in a hospital fighting for my life."

Coleman became one of the one out of seven people who find themselves disabled at some point in their lives. As he adjusted to using a wheelchair. Coleman discovered that one of his biggest challenges involved changing the attitudes of people who saw the chair first, and the man second. Noting the mounting casualties in the war in Iraq, Coleman observed that many of the men and women saved from death by advanced medical care there will come home with disabilities and face many of the same problems that he has encountered.

The talk included advice for managers about current definitions of disability and reasonable accommodation. Coleman also gave people with disabilities advice about working with doctors to get the correct documentation for requesting reasonable accommodation and changes in status. He brought along information from the Department of Labor website on disabilities and government regulations. After the presentation, Coleman talked individually with several NIEHS employees with concerns or questions.

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