Disabilities of the Future Workplace

Wearables, such as Google Glass, and virtual reality are two technologies widely speculated to be tools of the future workplace. While they may end up being very valuable they also may be a cause for concern. They may become the cause of a disability that many companies will have to deal with in the workplace of the future.

“I don’t feel so good”

Have you ever felt queasy while watching a 3D movie, or one of those movies that is in the round? I have. I cannot watch a movie-in the-round where there is the appearance of movement yet I am rooted in one place. Even 3-D causes some queasiness. Not everyone can deal with simulations or virtual reality. There is a problem with the fact that these produce visual perceptions of movement without the associated inner ear perceptions. This results in motion sickness. Christopher Mims, writing in Digital motion sickness will be the occupational disease of the 21st century, says that the Army has long known of this problem because it has used simulations for training for many years. He says the actual term for this illness is “simulation sickness” and occurs in a large number or people depending on how immersive the simulation his. He reports that he has experienced it wearing Google Glass. If you suffer from motion sickness you know it is not any fun and in fact it can be downright debilitating with the effects lasting long after the event is over.

The Americans with Disability Act

So what happens if you require an employee to wear a simulation device of some sort to perform their job and they cannot? Will this be a potential ADA claim? The EEOC says that for something to be considered a disability it must “substantially limit” someone’s ability to perform a “major life activity”, of which working is one. It is not too far of a stretch to imagine someone making a claim under the ADAAA of having a disability associated with simulation sickness.

Of course once someone has made this claim you will be required to get into the “interactive discussion” phase of dealing with their inability to perform the essential functions of their job. You will need to discuss with them what they consider to be possible “reasonable accommodations.” Who knows, at some point that reasonable accommodation may include the implantation of a device in the inner ear to offset simulation sickness. Or it may be as simple as allowing them to wear a seasickness patch or chew some ginger gum.

There are multiple ways on how this will play out in the future, but I will guarantee it WILL be an issue that needs to be prepared for. This will require you to be aware of changing technology, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.

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