A day in the life of an institutional ADA officer

Aug 22, 2018, 21:30 PM by Stephen Hadley

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Lela Lockett-Ware walks into an office in Jennie Sealy Hospital on UTMB’s Galveston Campus, and within minutes, she’s diagnosed the issues with a workstation that are causing a literal pain in the neck for one executive. 

“The monitor was too low and the seat pan on her chair needed to be adjusted so that she could work more comfortably,” she says. “It’s a common issue that can lead to physical pain, eye strain and just an overall uncomfortable work situation.” 

Lockett-Ware, UTMB’s institutional American with Disabilities Act (ADA) officer, will conduct more than 100 similar worksite evaluations in a year, just one of the many responsibilities this occupational therapist will tackle in a given day. 

This day has been typical of most, she says. Before her visit to the office of Ann O’Connell, UTMB’s vice president of Ambulatory Operations, to make her desk setup more ergonomically correct, Lockett-Ware had already visited Clear Lake Center to review an employee’s leave-of-absence request and led another meeting to consider an ADA accommodation for a different employee. 

“Every day is different and that’s one of the things I really love about what I do,” Lockett-Ware says. “I can be addressing ADA compliance issues, ergonomics, temporary job modification requests or leave-of-absence requests for employees and students. It’s my passion because I’m working with people all day, every day, and that’s what I really enjoy.” 

In addition to being UTMB’s ergonomics specialist, one of Lockett-Ware’s primary responsibilities is ensuring UTMB is complying with related federal requirements. The civil rights law passed by Congress in 1990 and amended in 2008 prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. It also imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

ADA accommodations can vary but often include a change in schedule or equipment to enable the employee or student to perform the essential functions of their job. The most common, Lockett-Ware says, are modifying workstations or adjusting work hours. In FY18 alone, she’ll address more than 200 ADA issues across UTMB’s locations, including our campuses, clinics and Correctional Managed Care facilities. 

“Have car, will travel,” she says. “I’m truly the entire institution’s ADA officer, and I believe providing access to everyone at UTMB is vital to this role, which means I’ll travel to locations when needed.” 

Lockett-Ware started at UTMB as an occupational therapist right out of college in 1988 but left a year later to pursue opportunities in the private sector. She returned in 2000 as a medical case coordinator for worker’s compensation; she then was assigned the duties of the return-to-work coordinator to manage temporary modified-duty cases. She transitioned to the Institutional ADA officer role in 2013, and has earned her certifications as an ADA coordinator, a disability management specialist and an ergonomics assessment specialist during her career. 

Throughout her tenure, however, she’s helped employees with ergonomics issues, mostly through word-of-mouth referrals from people who sing her praises for the ways she has improved their overall work experience. 

“I think ergonomics is critical to every employee’s success,” she says. “If you walk in everyday to a workstation that is going to cause you some level of discomfort, you’re not going to be as willing to sit there. But when that workstation is set up properly, you will get more done and you’ll feel better at the end of the day. 

“Seeing how an employee works from a functional standpoint brings out the best of the OT in me and allows me to help others be the best they can be. It’s such a rewarding way to be of service to everyone at UTMB.” 

For O’Connell, whose workstation in her Jennie Sealy Hospital office was modified to alleviate significant pain in her neck, shoulders and arms, Lockett-Ware’s visit is a godsend. 

“This is so vitally important,” she says. “For us desk jockeys, we are on the computer or on the phone most of the day and in meetings the rest of the time. As an executive, I just fly into the work, and I don’t really think about my body position because I’m just trying to get the work done. It’s not until I feel several weeks of pain that won’t go away that I think there’s something wrong with my desk setup. 

“She can spot it right away, and I’m so thankful for her because this will help me work more comfortably.”