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Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace Under the ADA

By Samuel Cordes

Millions of Americans have some form of disability, and much like every other American, these individuals need to work to earn a living for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, employers sometimes discriminate against the disabled for various reasons. Providing them with necessary accommodations may be viewed as burdensome or too expensive. Luckily, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prevents employment discrimination towards disabled individuals by enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Reasonable Accommodations

The EEOC requires that any employer with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations include:

  • Altering the job application process
  • Changing the work environment or the usual means by which a job is done
  • Changing other company guidelines so a disabled person may enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment

Examples of reasonable accommodations include changing the physical layout of a location, such as installing a wheelchair ramp, or making training materials accessible to the blind or hard of hearing. Others consist of installing communication devices and providing reasonable time off for treatment of a disability.

However, these requirements do not apply if providing such accommodations would cause the employer an undue hardship. This is determined on a case by case basis.

Who Is Protected Under the ADA?

Only those qualified by the ADA as an individual with a disability are protected. The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking … and the person must be able to perform the job with reasonable accommodations.”

If someone qualifies for an accommodation under the ADA they must request the accommodation from their employer. If the disability is not obvious, however, an employer does have the right to ask for medical documentation, but once this is given, the employer must abide by the request if reasonable.

If the employer fails (or refuses) to provide a reasonable accommodation, then the individual should consult a qualified employment law attorney with disability discrimination experience to discuss their rights and options.