In this section:
Ensuring equal access
Developing accommodations and supports is an integral part of assisting people with disabilities to find employment.
Fitting the job to the person is as important as fitting the person to the job. Employment service providers who work with people with disabilities require a basic knowledge of the legal and practical matters concerning reasonable accommodations in employment.
What is job accommodation?
Job accommodation means modifying a job, job site, or the way in which a job is done so that the person with a disability can have equal access to all aspects of work. Job accommodations can make it possible for people with disabilities to:
- apply for jobs
- perform essential job functions
- be as productive as their co-workers
- accomplish tasks with greater ease or independence
Job accommodations also allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same perks that their co-workers enjoy, such as access to the employee cafeteria or use of company-provided transportation.
What is an assistive technology device?
An assistive technology device is a tangible item, device, or piece of equipment that enables a person with a disability to perform a task, or increase or improve their performance on a task. Assistive technology can range from relatively simple, low-tech items such as Velcro® to highly sophisticated technology such as specialized computer equipment from specialized vendors. Assistive technology devices are often used as job accommodations.
What are essential functions and how are they determined?
Essential functions are basic duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation.
Factors to consider in determining if a function is essential include:
- Does the position exist to perform that function? For example, a cashier exists to exchange money with customers.
- What will the consequences be if this employee is not required to perform the function?
- How many other employees are available to perform the function?
- How much time have present or past employees spent performing this function?
- What has been the actual work experience of present or past employees in this job?
- What degree of expertise or skill is required to perform the function?
- The contents of the written job description.
- Terms of a collective bargaining agreement, if applicable.
What are the steps involved in developing job accommodations?
Step 1: Identify accommodation needs
Identify the tasks and job functions that a person with a disability cannot fully perform without some type of accommodation.
Step 2: Identify accommodation
Identify the modification that will solve the problem. The modification can often be straightforward with obvious solutions. Other times, this step requires extensive investigation and outside assistance.
Begin by discussing options with the individual. Frequently, the appropriate accommodation is obvious. The individual may suggest an accommodation based upon his or her own life or work experience. Assuming that it is reasonable, it is then simply a matter of arranging for the accommodation.
If you are unable to identify an appropriate accommodation, the employer may need to analyze the job and workplace more thoroughly to research accommodation options. An employer may choose to do such an analysis independently, or may wish to bring in outside expertise.
Through the course of an analysis, be sure to consider all six categories of types of accommodations (listed later in this section under “Job Accommodation Categories”).
Types of Accommodations
Accommodations are often thought of as physical equipment or modifications. However, accommodations can include a wide range of non-physical modifications.
It is helpful to consider these six categories (specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act) with the employer and employee when discussing how to resolve task barriers. More specific examples of job accommodations are listed elsewhere in this section.
|Job Restructuring||Adjustments to work procedures or to the order in which tasks are usually performed||Change work schedule
Rearrange the order in which tasks are done
Decrease number of non-essential job duties
|Assistive Device||Objects that help an employee do the job or complete tasks with greater ease or independence||Mechanical reacher
|Training||Teaching methods that help an employee to learn or re-learn job duties||Use a map to orient new employees
Supply large print instructions
Demonstrate a different way to perform a task
|Personal Assistant||Person who helps an employee with job duties, work routines, or work-related aspects of a job||Interpreter assists with communication
Co-worker helps with a task
Mentor provides training or support
|Building Modification||Alterations to the physical environment that allow safe and equal access to facilities||Lever to turn round door knob
Raised letters on elevators and signs
Flashing lights on fire alarms and telephones
|Job Reassignment||Temporary or permanent task transfers between co-workers or sharing jobs with other employees||Swap task with co-worker
Job share with co-worker
Reassign task to another employee
What are an employer’s responsibilities for providing job accommodations?
Employers must provide accommodations, and pay any costs involved, to any qualified job applicant or employee if the accommodation is considered reasonable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation is one that does not pose an undue hardship on an employer.
When is an accommodation considered an undue hardship for an employer?
Undue hardship is an accommodation deemed unduly costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of a business. Among the factors considered:
- the nature and cost of the accommodation
- the resources and size of the business
- the type of business, including the composition, functions, and structure of the workforce
- the impact the accommodation would have on the facility and business as whole
If an accommodation is considered to be an undue hardship, the employer must attempt to find an alternate solution.
Who decides whether or not an accommodation would pose an undue hardship?
An employer cannot state that it will not provide an accommodation without some type of negotiation and discussion with the applicant or employee. ADA regulations require that employers engage in an interactive process with individuals with disabilities in response to a request for reasonable accommodation.
h4. What alternatives must an employer explore if an accommodation poses an undue hardship?
- If a particular accommodation would be an undue hardship, an employer must attempt to identify an alternate accommodation that would not pose such a hardship.
- If cost of the accommodation to be judged an undue hardship, an employer must consider whether an outside source, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency or tax credit, can offset the cost. The employer must also give the applicant or employee the opportunity to provide the accommodation or pay for the portion of the accommodation that is considered to be excessively expensive.
Who is responsible for requesting an accommodation?
The person with a disability is responsible for requesting an accommodation.
Who is responsible for identifying an appropriate accommodation?
Ultimately, the employer is responsible. Once a person with a disability has made a request for a reasonable accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to identify a specific solution.
When can an accommodation be requested?
A job accommodation may be requested by the employee with a disability:
- during the job application process
- after a job offer is made, or
- at any time during the course of employment.
Employers are specifically prohibited by Title I of the ADA from asking job applicants about the presence of a disability. However, the employer may ask if the individual can perform specific job responsibilities and how the person would go about accomplishing those tasks, with or without an accommodation.
In particular, if an individual’s disability is readily apparent — for example, an individual uses a wheelchair — the employer may ask how the individual will perform specific job tasks that the employer perceives as potentially problematic given the nature of the individual’s disability.
After an individual has requested an accommodation, an employer can ask for specific information concerning the nature of an individual’s disability.
When is it best to request an accommodation?
Requesting accommodations requires some level of disclosure. As with any issue related to disclosure, a number of variables must be considered.
- Will the accommodation be needed during the interview or hiring process?
- Is the accommodation needed immediately to perform job duties?
- What will be the impact of making the request:
- Before hiring?
- Immediately after?
- After one or more months of employment?
As always with disclosure issues, the job seeker’s wishes should be absolutely adhered to. However, employment service providers should help guide the job seeker through the decision-making process, with consideration of the implications of disclosure and non-disclosure.
Is it always a good idea to wait until the hiring process has been completed, and leave it up to the employer to identify the accommodation?
The law is clear: once a request has been made, it is the employer’s legal responsibility to identify a reasonable accommodation. However, practical realities may call for a different approach.
Accommodation needed for application process. If the individual needs an accommodation to apply for a position, the applicant should view the accommodation process as an opportunity to demonstrate competence. He or she should avoid approaching the employer with an attitude such as “You need to find me an accommodation so that I can apply for this job.”
Accommodations can be simple (an accessible office, materials in Braille) or more involved (a short-term job try-out in lieu of or in addition to the traditional hiring routine of application, interview, and testing).
When requesting accommodations, the job applicant should clarify how the accommodation will allow the employer to give him or her equal consideration.
Identification of reasonable accommodation needed for a positive hiring decision. No matter the applicant, part of the hiring process is convincing an employer that he or she can perform the tasks of a job. Again, remember that hiring is a subjective process, based on the perceptions and impressions of the employer.
Better: “I can do this job and here’s how I can do it with the accommodation I have identified.”
Worse: “I can do this job, but you’ll have to figure out how by finding me an accommodation.”
Need for training on assistive technology
If the accommodation consists of a piece of equipment that requires training such as a voice activated computer, a person with a disability may need to receive training prior to applying in order to demonstrate competence. The job applicant increases the chances of being hired when he or she can demonstrate that they have identified an accommodation and are trained to use it.
What is the best approach for job seekers when seeking accommodations with employers?
Accommodations are best developed in a spirit of cooperation – not conflict – with employers. Remember, positive relationships with employers are necessary for long-term success. Approach the process as a joint problem-solving exercise with many possible solutions. However, if circumstances warrant it, job seekers and staff should not hesitate to remind employers that providing reasonable accommodations is not a “favor” to the potential employee. The law requires it.
When requesting accommodations from an employer, it is helpful to consider that employers actually accommodate the needs of all workers through the provisions of desks, chairs, work tools, and other supplies. These accommodations enable employees to perform the tasks of their job, and often more efficiently. When a person with a disability requests accommodations, he or she is not asking for anything more than what the employer provides to all other employees – the tools to effectively perform the job.
What are the options if an employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation?
If an employer refuses to provide an accommodation, even after negotiation and advocacy, the job applicant or employee should determine why the employer is unable to provide the accommodation, and which factors are causing an “undue hardship”. If the job applicant or employee disagrees with the employer’s opinion that the accommodation poses an undue hardship, the following steps can be taken:
- Consult with legal advocacy organizations to get a professional opinion. Discussing situations with legal experts can help determine whether the employer is truly meeting their legal obligations.
- If it appears that the employer has not met their legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, the job applicant or employee may pursue possible options for legal action. This may include filing a complaint with a state anti-discrimination board or EEOC, which has mediation services available. Legal action should only be pursued in the rare instances where all other options for reaching a mutually satisfactory solution have been exhausted.
Information on accommodations is taken in part from:
Information in this section on the legal aspects of reasonable accommodations is based in part on material from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission booklet The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer