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Release:  Sept. 27, 1999

UI researchers receive grant to study accommodations for older workers with disabilities

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa department of occupational and environmental health in the College of Public Health has received a grant of $415,000 to conduct a national study on workplace accommodations for older workers with disabilities.

The grant, made by the National Institute on Aging, funds a project to determine to what extent employers are providing environments that allow older workers with disabilities to be productive employees, and what impact this has on these workers' retirement decisions and risk of occupational injury.

"We really do not have a lot of information about what happens when older individuals with disabilities want to work or continue to work," said Craig Zwerling, M.D., Ph.D., head of the department and the study's principal investigator. "Are their employers or potential employers responsive, making adjustments to the workplace setting to accommodate them, or are these individuals not hired or encouraged to retire early? Or for that matter, are they working without any accommodations, possibly at greater risk of injury?"

The study will analyze existing data, using two comprehensive databases: The Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal survey of older Americans; and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). For the purposes of the study, "older workers" are defined as those over 50 years of age.

The study will determine:

--What percentage of workplace settings accommodate older workers with disabilities, and what factors make it more or less likely that these workers will be accommodated;

--How accommodations for younger workers with disabilities compare with those for older workers;

--How workplace accommodations may have changed over the first 10 years since the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);

--Whether workplace accommodations help older workers with disabilities prolong their work lives before retiring;

--Whether workplace accommodations reduce the risk of occupational injury for these workers.