The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has the most far-reaching impact on the U.S. workplace since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet many Americans are confused about the meaning of key terms used in the Act. This article unravels the confusion about the term ‘reasonable accommodation’ and shows you how to provide it.
Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to:
- Participate in the job application process,
- Perform the essential functions of a job, or
- Enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those of other employees.
Types of accommodations include:
- Providing or modifying equipment (i.e., how the work is performed), such as a golf cart or a TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf)
- Adjusting a work schedule (i.e., when the work is performed)
- Job restructuring (focusing on essential functions) or reassignment
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies
- Reassigning or retraining other employees to do the marginal tasks
- Making the workplace readily accessible and usable by people with disabilities.
That last type has been the most visible and expensive impact of the ADA (not just Title I), e.g., ramps, designated disability parking, restructured rest rooms, etc.
But most Title I (i.e., employment) accommodations are surprisingly easy and low-cost, and well worth the investment: 31% cost nothing, e.g., rearranging furniture for someone in a wheelchair; 88% cost under $1,000. For example, a TDD costs $150-$200.
[NOTE: An employer is not required to provide personal aids, e.g., a guide dog or wheelchair; just allow them to be used in the workplace.]
Notice, however, that most of those types of accommodation relate to employment practices, not equipment.
We want to draw your attention particularly to modifying policies. We know of at least one employer who ran afoul of ADA by inflexibly applying their (basically sound) medical leave policy.
How do you go about determining what accommodation is needed? There are many government and non-profit agency resources available to assist you. [For example, Job Accommodation Network.] But start with your in-house expert, i.e., collaborate with the employee with the disability. And don’t be afraid to experiment.
The accommodation chosen need not be most expensive or the employee’s first choice. It simply needs to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would be an undue hardship to the organization, i.e., would require significant difficulty or expense. Be prepared to justify this! And bear in mind that outside funding or payment plans often are available, and the employee may choose to pay for some of the cost.