Americans With Disabilities Act: Reasonable Accommodations Definitions and How to Disclose Your Needs

Ben Allen  | 

People with disabilities are capable of doing amazing things, both at work and in their community, especially if they have the right tools at their disposal. As American citizens, they have the right to work in a fair and balanced environment that gives them the tools necessary to succeed. In order to gain those tools, people with disabilities need to understand their rights, and what type of accommodations they can request to help them succeed.

What is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put into law in 1990. It made discrimination against people with disabilities illegal in all areas of public life, including employment, school, transportation, and access to public buildings. In 2009, an amendment was made to the ADA defining what a disability is to cover more areas and classifications, and to make sure more people got the help they required.

The purpose behind the ADA is to make sure that all people have the same rights and opportunities, regardless of their ability. This is made possible by requiring specific accommodations of the public, and for employers to make reasonable accommodations to their employees with disabilities.

What is Reasonable Accommodation?

A “reasonable accommodation” is any assistance or changes an employer can provide to make it possible for a person with a disability to do their job. Reasonable accommodations can range from building ramps, providing a TDD telephone, to having a distraction free environment for people with attention deficit disorders, or even restructuring their work schedule so they can get necessary medical treatments.

If you have a disability or condition that affects your work, you can request that your employer make changes so that you can perform your job to the best of your ability. In order to gain a reasonable accommodation, you must have a long term or permanent disability. ADA does not cover temporary disabilities. In order to get a reasonable accommodation, you will need to request it from your employer.

How to Make a Reasonable Accommodation Request

It falls to the employee to notify their employer that they have a work-affecting disability, and to request assistance with it. If they don’t officially notify their employer, the employer has no legal obligation to accommodate them.

Once an employee does notify their employer of their disability, they need to work together to identify a proper accommodation. Typically, the employee, an HR representative, and a member of management have a brainstorming meeting to find potential solutions. An employee shouldn’t expect to get the exact demands they want, but will get a reasonable solution to their disability. For example, an employee in a wheelchair might request an elevator system to reach a second story in the office building, but instead might receive a ramp.

Once a decision has been made, it falls to the employer to institute the accommodation and make sure it works as intended. If the accommodation breaks or fails, the employer will need to fix it promptly.

How to Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Individuals with Disabilities

Again, it falls to the employee to notify the employer of any work-affecting disabilities. It is illegal for employers to make decisions about disabilities without the consent of the employee, as it might be considered discrimination. For example, if you suspect an employee has an attention deficit disorder, you can’t create accommodations specifically for them without them approaching you first.

Once an employee does approach you about a reasonable accommodation, you have to listen to them and find a proper solution for their issue. You don’t have to fulfill their requests or demands exactly as they wanted, but you must reach a solution both the employer and employee agree as fair. If that solution does fail, then it falls to the employer to find a new solution that will work.

Not every requested accommodation is reasonable. If the accommodation will cost the business a large sum of money to accomplish, excessively disrupt the lives of other employees or operations of the business, cost too much money to maintain, or isn’t possible in the current business structure, it may not be legally considered “reasonable”. If the employer receives an unreasonable accommodation from an employee, they can respond with a different solution that should be able to still fulfill the employee’s needs. Failure to accommodate can result in a lawsuit from the employee.


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Ben Allen is a freelance content creator and digital marketer who believes in helping small businesses succeed. He spends his free time bragging about his two daughters, eating stuffed crust pizza, and playing video games.

This post was updated May 18, 2018. It was originally published May 19, 2018.