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Closing the Disability Divide: The Past, Present, and Future of Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace

Asian women co-workers smile in workplace. One woman is a person with blindness disability using a laptop computer with a screen reader program for visually impaired people.

Individuals with disabilities often face barriers in the workplace. These barriers may be physical (such as inaccessible facilities or equipment) or procedural (concerning when and how work must be performed). For this reason, two laws, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Rehab Act), require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities, absent undue hardship. However, neither law mandated the provision of Personal Assistance Services (PAS) except when needed for work-related travel.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recognized the absence of PAS in the workplace as a barrier. As a result, the EEOC amended Section 501 of the Rehab Act to enhance the employment, retention, and promotion of qualified individuals with disabilities. As of January 3, 2018, federal agencies must provide PAS in the workplace and reasonable accommodations to employees who need them because of certain disabilities. These disabilities are a subset of conditions the federal government calls “targeted disabilities.” This requirement does not apply to private businesses.

What are PAS?

PAS help with performing basic activities of daily living (ADL) that an individual would typically perform if not for a disability. Basic ADLs involve skills required to manage physical needs such as personal hygiene or grooming, dressing, toileting, transferring or ambulating, and eating.

How are PAS different than Reasonable Accommodations?

Unlike reasonable accommodations, PAS do not help individuals with disabilities perform their specific job functions or job-related tasks. For example, someone providing PAS might push a wheelchair, assist with getting into or out of a vehicle at the worksite, help an employee take off or put on a coat, eat, or use the restroom. PAS do not include performing medical procedures (e.g., administering shots) or medical monitoring (e.g., taking blood pressure).

Are agencies required to inform employees about PAS?

Federal agencies must post their PAS procedures on their public websites. The PAS procedures for NIH employees are available on the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s (EDI) website.

Why are PAS beneficial to employees and employers?

Providing PAS in the workplace can bring various benefits to both the employees and their employers, including:

  1. Increased Productivity. PAS can help employees with disabilities complete their tasks more efficiently, leading to increased productivity in the workplace.
  2. Improved Job Satisfaction. With the necessary support to perform their job duties, employees receiving PAS can feel valued and empowered, which can lead to improved job satisfaction and engagement.
  3. Positive Impact on Workplace Culture. By providing PAS, agencies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the workplace. This can lead to a more positive workplace culture, where all employees feel valued and respected.

As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government must become a model employer for individuals with disabilities and for DEIA. At the NIH, providing PAS is yet another way to remove or mitigate barriers for employees with disabilities.

To learn more about the PAS requirements for federal agencies, visit the EEOC’s PAS questions and answers page.

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