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.)
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:
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.
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:
Learn about how to request a reasonable accommodation.
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:
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.
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/.