Your Right to a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA gives employees with disabilities the right to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to do their jobs.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of workers’ disabilities. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations -- changes to the workplace or job -- to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs. (For more information on the ADA, see Disability Discrimination in the Workplace: The ADA and ADA Amendments: More Protections Against Disability Discrimination.)

What's a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Qualified employees are those who hold the necessary degrees, skills, and experience for the job; and who can perform its essential functions, with or without an accommodation. 

Examples of accommodations include:

  • making existing facilities usable by disabled employees—for example, by modifying the height of desks and equipment, installing computer screen magnifiers, or installing telecommunications for the deaf
  • restructuring jobs—for example, allowing a ten-hour/four-day workweek so that a worker can receive weekly medical treatments
  • modifying exams and training material—for example, allowing more time for taking an exam, or allowing it to be taken orally instead of in writing
  • providing a reasonable amount of additional unpaid leave for medical treatment
  • hiring readers or interpreters to assist an employee
  • providing temporary workplace specialists to assist in training, and
  • transferring an employee to the same job in another location to obtain better medical care.

These are just a few possible accommodations. The possibilities are limited only by an employee’s and employer’s imaginations—and the reality that one or more of these accommodations might be financially impossible in a particular workplace.

Negotiating an Accommodation

As one might imagine, the ADA has spawned yet another crop of workplace experts, all eager to give tips to employers on what they must do to comply with the  law. Most offer some type of checklist or list of steps to take to help meet the ADA’s provisions.

In truth, the checklists are most valuable for employees who want to get or keep a job. If you have a disability, you will be in the best possible bargaining position if you approach a potential employer with answers to the questions on their list.

Here are some things to ponder:

  • Analyze the job you want and isolate its essential functions.
  • Write down precisely what job-related limitations your condition imposes and note how they can be overcome by accommodations.
  • Identify potential accommodations and assess how effective each would be in allowing you to perform the job.
  • Estimate how long each accommodation could be used before a change would be required.
  • Document all aspects of the accommodation—including cost and availability.

Undue Hardship

The ADA does not require employers to make accommodations that would cause them an undue hardship: significant difficulty or expense. To show that a particular accommodation would present an undue hardship, an employer would have to demonstrate that it was too costly, extensive, or disruptive to be adopted in that workplace.

The EEOC, in its role as the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA, has set out some of the factors that will determine whether a particular accommodation presents an undue hardship on a particular employer:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation
  • the financial resources of the employer—a large employer, obviously, reasonably being asked to foot a larger bill for accommodations than a mom and pop business
  • the nature of the business, including size, composition, and structure, and
  • accommodation costs already incurred in a workplace.

It is not easy for employers to prove that an accommodation is an undue hardship, as financial difficulty alone is not usually sufficient. Courts will look at other sources of money, including tax credits and deductions available for making some accommodations and the disabled employee’s willingness to pay for all or part of the costs.

When Money Isn’t Everything

According to ergonomic and job accommodation experts, the amount of money employers would need to pay to accommodate a particular worker’s disability is often surprisingly low:

• 31% of accommodations cost nothing.

• 50% cost less than $50.

• 69% cost less than $500.

• 88% cost less than $1,000.

Following are listed problems that recently surfaced—and their inexpensive solutions.

Problem: A person had an eye disorder. Glare on the computer screen caused fatigue.

Solution: The employer purchased an antiglare screen for $39.

Problem: An individual lost the use of a hand and could no longer use a camera. The company provided a tripod, but that was too cumbersome.

Solution: A waist pod, such as is used in carrying flags, enabled the individual to manipulate the camera and keep his job. Cost? $50.

Problem: A seamstress could not use ordinary scissors due to pain in her wrist.

Solution: The business purchased a pair of ergonomically designed springloaded scissors for $18.

Problem: A receptionist, who was blind, could not see the lights on her telephone that indicated whether the telephone lines were ringing, on hold, or in use at her company.

Solution: The company bought a light probe, a penlike product that detected a lighted button, for $45.

Problem: A medical technician who was deaf could not hear the buzz of a timer, which was necessary for specific laboratory tests.

Solution: An indicator light was attached for $26.95.

Problem: A person who used a wheelchair could not use a desk because it was too low and his knees would not go under it.

Solution: The desk was raised with wood blocks, allowing a proper amount of space for the wheelchair to fit under it. Cost? Nothing.

Source: The Job Accommodation Network, http://askjan.org/

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