As an employer, reasonable accommodations can sometimes be confusing to navigate. However, these accommodations not only help your employees to do their jobs, they also increase worker productivity. Let’s explore how reasonable accommodations work.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, Title I), As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, Title I) a reasonable accommodation is “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities” (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Reasonable accommodations assist a person with a disability to successfully complete the interview process as well as perform their job functions so that they may enjoy the equal benefits and privileges of employment. The Office of Disability Employment, a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, describes reasonable accommodations not as “special treatment” but as “productivity enhancers” that can often benefit all employees.
An employee can “qualify” for a reasonable accommodation if they possess the skill set, experience, education, and other such requirements of the position, as well as can perform the essential (fundamental and not just occasional) tasks of the job either with or without a reasonable accommodation. Granting a reasonable accommodation should take place as an interactive and ongoing process between the employee and employer, making sure the process is documented and adjustments are made as needed.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
There are many different types of reasonable accommodations that can assist a person in performing their role, which are based on a combination of an individual’s preferences, the particular disability, and the type of job performed. The following list includes various types of reasonable accommodations.
These may be some of the most obvious types of alterations but are fundamental to a person’s ability to both get to the interview and perform the job. Types of physical changes include installing a ramp or modifying a restroom for a person in a wheelchair or with limited mobility. Modifying the layout of a workspace to create wider aisles between furniture, for example, could also be helpful for both limitations with mobility or to someone who is blind or has limited vision.
Accessible and Assistive Technologies
Accessible and assistive technologies are easy reasonable accommodations to implement. For example, ensure your computer software is accessible. This could mean tapping into the accessibility features already available with Microsoft Office. Another type of assistive technology is screen reading software for someone who is blind or has limited vision. A person with a hearing impairment could also request a telephone amplifier or other telecommunications device.
Modified Work Schedules
Modification of a work schedule is a reasonable accommodation for someone who requires special medical treatment for their disability, needs rest periods, or who has disabilities affected by eating or sleeping (such as diabetes). For example, if someone needs medical treatment two days of the week and this treatment is only available during the weekdays, it could be possible (depending on the type of work that they do) to work from home or on the weekends or even part-time.
Policy modifications may also be requested where a workplace policy needs to be changed if it usually prohibits something an employee with a disability needs to do their job. This includes allowing a service animal to accompany an individual or allowing medicines or food at a workstation. An individual with a disability who has mobility issues could also need development of a modified emergency evacuation procedure that is more effective in an actual emergency for them. Another individual may ask for more accessible parking, such as with a parking permit or van accessible parking spot.
This type of reasonable accommodation involves the reallocation or redistribution of the marginal functions of a job. The marginal functions of a job are those that are not essential. For example, a cleaning crewmember wears a prosthetic leg that helps him to walk well, but climbing steps can be painful and difficult for him. He can perform the essential functions of his job without any issues; however, he cannot perform the marginal function of sweeping the steps throughout the building. Another crewmember’s marginal job functions include cleaning the kitchen outside the employee lounge, which is something the first crewmember can perform. The employer can switch the marginal functions performed by the two employees as a reasonable accommodation (example provided by the EEOC).
Big Benefits, Low Cost
Employers have a responsibility to provide accommodations whenever possible unless doing so would cause undue hardship or direct threat. An organization should look at each reasonable accommodation request on an individual basis. There is likely an accommodation that is found to suit both the employee and employer’s needs.
In interviews of employers that have been ongoing since 2004, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), has found that most employers consistently show the benefits received from providing the workplace accommodations exceedingly outweigh the cost. In providing workplace accommodations, employers report that they are able to retain valued employees, increase the employee’s productivity, and eliminate costs of training a new employee, as well as increase company morale, attendance, and profitability. Most of these accommodations are also relatively inexpensive. JAN found that two-thirds of accommodations cost less than $500 and nearly a quarter cost $0. Overall, workplace accommodations have been found to be both low cost and high impact. See the listed resources below for more information on how you can appropriately accommodate an employee with a disability as well as positively impact your workplace.
Southeast ADA Center
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor
Job Accommodation Network
Office of Disability Rights, District of Columbia
Northwest ADA Center