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October: Employment Accommodations

Disability Employment Awareness Month graphic

Above: Graphic of Disability Employment Month seal

Happy Disability Employment Month!

Like so many other disability-related topics, this month’s tip is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg on the incredibly complex social, cultural, political, and legal issues surrounding employment accommodations. Enjoy!

What are employment accommodations?

You’ll remember from our June Access Tip on Accommodations that “accommodations” are changes to the rules, ways we do things, and providing technology and support so that people with disabilities can access programs and services.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protects people with disabilities from employment discrimination and requires employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that employees with disabilities have a fair chance to be effective in their jobs.

Fast Facts on Employment Accommodations

1. The definition of “disability” under the ADA is broad.  It includes the mental health, sensory, mobility, cognitive and intellectual disabilities we traditionally think of when we think of disability. It also includes bodily processes, like manufacturing insulin, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, digestion, and cell division. Chances are if you have a long-term condition that impacts the way your body or mind works, you are covered under the ADA.

2. The employment part of the ADA only “kicks in” after you disclose a disability to an employer. The ADA isn’t retroactive, and you cannot erase past disciplinary actions or performance evaluations, even if they were impacted by your disability. Having said that, the decision to disclose a disability is a very personal, complex one.

3.You can disclose and make a request for accommodation in plain language. You do not have to use the words “disability” or “accommodation” or “ADA” to make a valid accommodation request or be protected by the ADA. A statement like, “I’m having trouble getting to work on time because of my medical treatments” can be an “official” accommodation request under the ADA. 

Pro tip: Your employer can verify your need for accommodation by asking for “reasonable documentation,” like a health professional’s letter that verifies that the need for accommodation. An accommodation request does not give your employer the right to access your medical records or specific diagnostic information. If a disability and the accommodation need are obvious, it might be inappropriate to ask for any documentation. (For instance, a wheelchair using employee asking for staff meetings and events to be held in spaces without stairs.)

4. Accommodations are usually low-cost, and worth it! According to studies by folks who do this sort of thing for a living, most accommodations cost nothing and the rest are generally under $500.  Not a bad investment for long-term effectiveness and productivity on the job! 

5. Accommodations create more productive, effective employees. This one is worth reiterating! An employee with the supports to do their job in the most efficient way possible is going to be able to produce better work for their employer and reach their highest potential, and what employer wouldn’t want that?

Wait! Before you go, check out the coolest website on employment accommodations out there: www.askjan.org

The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) offers a free accommodations hotline, ideas of possible accommodations, and explanations of different kinds of disabilities to support employers and employees in their mutual quest for excellent workplaces. As always, these kinds of resources make a wonderful starting place for an individualized conversation of what might be useful for a unique person in a unique situation.