The Most Important Similarity between Accommodations and Competitive Advantage

In the world of issues like autism, ADD/ADHD, mental illness, physical illness/disability, terms like “504 plan,” “IEP,” and “accommodations” are commonplace.

As a multi-outcome-single-tasker, however, I want to suggest that along that same vein should come the term “personal competitive advantage.”


Because the underlying skills needed to achieve both accommodations and a personal competitive advantage (multiple outcomes) are either the same, or close enough that they can be taught single-taskedly (I made that word up!).


For purposes of discussion, we will consider the Wikipedia definition of a reasonable accommodation:

“A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment made in a system to accommodate or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need. That need can vary. Accommodations can be religious, physical, mental or emotional. Academic, or employment related and are often mandated by law.”

Some common places the topic of accommodations arise are school and work. The definition of “accommodations” varies with the context.


Putting it simply, in the context of school, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows students with certain mental and physical disabilities not rising to the level of needing or being eligible for special education to receive accommodations resulting in a plan commonly referred to as a “504 plan.”

Further, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), allows for the development of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for disabled individuals requiring special education services to receive accommodations.


Employers are required by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to accommodate certain employees (disabled ones) in the workplace to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to be successful.

Again, these definitions are super simplified for our purposes.

Competitive Advantage

Now, let’s take a look at the concept of competitive advantage. The formal definition of a competitive advantage arises in the context of an organization or business. Many use this term in describing personal achievement as well. So for the purpose of being reasonably informed, it is useful to take a minute to consider the difference.

Traditional Competitive Advantage

Again, per Wikipedia, “competitive advantage is the leverage that a business has over its competitors.”

Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal competitive advantage then refers to that advantage an individual has over his/her individual competitors.

Accommodation and Competitive Advantage Are Very Different…Aren’t They?

At least at first glance, the difference between accommodation and competitive advantage (we will be mostly talking about personal competitive advantage from here on out) may seem great. After all accommodations are intended to make the playing field level, whereas competitive advantage is what puts one individual in the lead over another.

Super different, right?

Maybe not so different at all.

I actually think there is a very fine line, especially in the context of school.

An example helps demonstrate this similarity.

I wrote post not long ago about Different Ways to Amazing Days: Frustration to Success!” Toward the end of that post, I realized that what I was doing not only made my work easier, it resulted in such gains in efficiency that it actually put me in front of many others in terms of the time it took me to create content. If it is true that I have some leverage moving me out in front of others in my business then, in business terms, we call that a competitive advantage.

I talked to my college-level daughter and asked whether she would like to try this process of transcription to ease and improve her writing. She had complained that writing papers took her much longer than it took the other students. (I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sorry, Honey!)

She said she couldn’t transcribe her papers because that would be cheating if done without an accommodation allowing it, and she had not requested that accommodation.

I’m not sure if she’s right about that, but let’s assume she’s correct.

So is this practice an accommodation at school and a competitive advantage in the business world? Is it both? And if so, in which context, school or employment?

(Side note – Why in the example above do we care if she writes the paper or records an oral version and has it transcribed? Shouldn’t we really care that the ideas belong to her and the result is the required paper???)

Gets murky quickly doesn’t it?

A New Way of Thinking

Here is my good news to you for today: If you have the skills to negotiate accommodations for yourself or someone else, you also have the skills to seek out and achieve personal competitive advantages (or at least some really cool self-improvement or goal attainment!).


Hard to believe, isn’t it?

I know some amazing ladies who think they have no skills, or who feel like they are behind the pack, who manage all kinds of medical issues and the attendant appointment schedules, financial issues, and myriad of other issues that come along with dealing with a “disability” (I totally hate that word!). These women don’t see the tremendous amount of skill and tenacity that they actually possess.

Time to dispel some of these myths and self-defeating ideas and get a good glimpse at a much happier reality!

The Same Skills That Help You Level the Playing Field Can Move You Out Front

If you get nothing else out of this, grab this point: the skills needed to work through the accommodation process are incredibly similar, if not the same as, or even less than, those required to gain a competitive advantage!

Here is a list of some of the skills (there is certainly more than one way to attack this process, I am just giving an example here):

  • the ability to identify a problem, source of stress, bottleneck, etc.;
  • the desire to remove the problem, source of stress, bottleneck, etc., in order to reach a goal or improve in some way;
  • the ability to determine that a change in environment, resources, or behavior will satisfy this desire by removing the hindrance;
  • the willingness to seek out a solution, resources or changes on one’s own, or with the help of others;
  • a willingness to make this change, or the ability to negotiate with others to make this change;
  • the flexibility to tolerate the implementation of the change;
  • the wherewithal to change.

Do You See It?

This list could easily apply to attaining either accommodations or a personal competitive advantage.

So where am I going with this line of thought?

Well, as I mentioned, when we have adults or kids with issues that rise to the level to trigger the legal protection of an accommodation whether by 504 plan or IEP at school or by the Americans with Disabilities Act in the context of employment, yet who are high-functioning enough (or maybe even have no intellectual disability of any kind, and in fact, may have outstanding intellectual abilities) such that they can understand their needs, lessons on how to seek accommodations and how to achieve a competitive advantage should be combined!

Yes, combined!!

Further, if you are in a position of going through this process to attain accommodations for another who is unable to do so for themselves, you are in a great spot to hone these skills in a manner that benefits you!

Don’t Let the Language Get You Down!

When I discuss with my own kiddos these issues in the context of seeking 504 accommodations, I note that the legal language (“disability,” “accommodation,” “impairment,” etc.) is necessary only during the process of ensuring adequate resources, but we never use that language outside of that context.


Because it’s discouraging.

We talk about leveling the playing field for folks, but the process to get to that level playing field is fraught with language that makes people feel like less. The price you pay to have your needs met is staggering!

In addition, I work with my kiddos to make sure they know that they are free to do additional things that will make them successful. We work on learning, how to identify areas where change would be beneficial, and then on how to determine what specific change and whether help is needed or not.

Again, the most important point, however, is that students, even with 504 plans and IEP’s, can often learn that accommodation needs and personal improvement needs can be met using the same skills!!!

While it is great to have a “level playing field,” it is better to know how to take the lead, and again, you can do it with the same skill set!!!

Where Do We Begin?

Okay, I know some of you are thinking that the process of attaining accommodations can be daunting even for a healthy adult and that your kiddos are not up to the challenge.

Fair enough.

But I am not suggesting that they take on the entire process at one time. Kids (and adults – even “normal” ones) can learn this process by taking little steps, by participating a bit more each time.

They can learn it in the formal process of a 504 plan or IEP meeting, or they can learn it in the process of just working to improve skills informally on their own or with the help of a parent or caregiver. The point is that the same skills work for both!

Maybe a person starts by working to determine what is causing them stress. Maybe they begin by attending a meeting. Maybe they begin by working to communicate when they are not okay or need help.

You get it, baby steps will get you there. Learning this stuff in little bits makes it much easier!

One Step Further

It stinks to have a need for a 504 plan, an IEP plan, or accommodations at work. Life would be better if no one needed this type of help. No question.

But that is not reality.

So check this out: you can, if appropriate for you and you so choose, to take your need to participate in this type of process and change it from a bummer to a process that enables you to develop a competitive advantage.

No, I am not nuts.

In spite of all their issues, my kiddos are masters of handling medical appointments, the pharmacy and administrative/bureaucratic issues.


Because slowly, over time, we took the time to use these systems and these experiences to teach them how. They use lots of services and resources other kids don’t even know exists.

The result?

They are resourceful and able to handle lots of stuff they may not otherwise be able to navigate.

What is that?

Well, if their peers are not as good as them, it is a personal competitive advantage. If others are as good as them, it is a great skill nonetheless.

I would suggest that including students, where possible or appropriate, in the 504/IEP process is an outstanding place to work on gaining the following skills:

  • taking steps to have needs met in non-traditional ways;
  • making decisions as to how to become successful;
  • participating in/managing a bureaucratic process;
  • requesting/scheduling meetings;
  • preparing for meetings;
  • handling issues that arise between meetings;
  • maintaining documentation required before, during, and after meetings;
  • working to change a standardized environment;
  • negotiating with persons in authority;
  • growing relationships with persons in authority;
  • standing up for personal rights;
  • asserting skills and strengths (we declined, yes declined, lots of potential accommodations as they are not needed by my daughters).

And Now It’s an Advantage

Seriously, as kids become older, the opportunities to learn really great life skills by participating in this process are tremendous. Best case scenario, kids become so good at the process that some of the need for accommodations diminishes or is eliminated. In the worst case, they learn skills that will help them later in life. A win-win.

The ability to manage a process like this one with little or no anxiety, I would argue, becomes a competitive advantage for those who master it.

I have seen kids who start with no skills in this area pass their “non-disabled” peers and become experts at managing administrative and bureaucratic process involved in going to college or gaining or maintaining employment.

No, I am not talking about teaching kids to “milk the system.” I am referring to teaching them how to identify rights and assert them appropriately.

In teaching kids to deal with their “disability” (I still hate that word!) we can engage in single-taskedly (I still like that word!) teaching them a slew of skills that help them meet their current need, prepare them for navigating the real world (doesn’t get much more real than a 504/IEP meeting), and develop their confidence to a point that minimizes their anxiety thereby optimizing their chances for success (multiple outcomes!)

And I have found that even kids I wasn’t sure could do it often (not always) rise to the challenge. It appears to be more a function of the size of the steps taken to learn the process than their ability to learn it per se.

The Potential in the Real World

Suddenly, a set of skills much needed by employers emerges:

  • the ability to look to the future (at least 9 months out) and predict what needs will arise;
  • the ability to solve problems not faced by most people;
  • a creative/innovative paradigm for removing obstacles, bottlenecks and hindrances to success.

I am just naming a few things here, but the number of skills acquired is only as limited as one’s imagination. Employers need this stuff. You maybe can’t put it on a resume (well, if you can find a creative way to include it, do it!), but you can definitely apply it as you go about your job!

Forging Ahead Unapologetically

Does anybody think less of me because I have my posts transcribed?

I don’t think less of me!

And if you do, honestly, I’m not really super worried about it.

I have to keep doing it anyway. I can’t write fast enough to get posts out in time to build a blog if I’m writing them. It’s the difference between doing it and not – and I am going to do it.

No question.

So, I am totally going to keep thinking about the things I do to achieve success as a quest for personal improvement or a competitive advantage rather than as accommodations.

And you should, too! (Though maybe not at school where they want and need to hear the word accommodations! Interestingly, when top students come up with a way to get ahead, everyone loves it. It just can’t be a school-sanctioned advantage for any one student…whoosh, the crazy norms of our society! Goodness, this is the beginning of a rant I will save for another day!)

My Challenge for You

I would encourage you to maybe just take the time to think about how you are talking about the need to have help or use resources for improvement. Think about leaving the language of “accommodations” in the 504 or IEP meeting and moving to the language of personal improvement and competitive advantage.

Gosh, it sounds so different, doesn’t it?

So. Much. Better.

What we ought to be learning from autistic people who do things differently is that those differences make things possible. They open doors and they create opportunities.

Get out there today and multi-outcome-single-task yourself a competitive advantage!

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