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Job Accommodations: An Overview

Developing accommodations and supports is an integral part of assisting people with disabilities to find employment. Successful job development involves fitting the job to the person as much as fitting the person to the job. One-Stop staff who work with people with disabilities need a basic knowledge of the legal and practical matters concerning reasonable accommodations in employment.

What is job accommodation?

Job accommodation means modifying a job, job site, or way in which a job is done so that the person with a disability can have equal access to all aspects of work. It can make it possible for people with disabilities to:

  • apply for jobs
  • perform essential job functions
  • be as productive as their co-workers
  • accomplish tasks with greater ease or independence.

Job accommodations can also allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same perks that their co-workers enjoy, such as access to the employee cafeteria or use of company-provided transportation.

What is an assistive technology device?

An assistive technology device is a tangible item, device, or piece of equipment that enables a person with a disability to perform a task, or increase or improve their performance on a task. Assistive technology can range from relatively simple, inexpensive, low tech items from a retail store (hardware, office supply, and electronics stores have an abundance of assistive technology) to highly sophisticated technology such as specialized computer equipment and mechanical devices from specialized vendors. Assistive technology devices are often used as job accommodations.

What are essential functions and how are they determined?

Essential functions are the basic duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. Factors to consider in determining if a function is essential include:

  • does the position exist to perform that function? (e.g., a cashier exists to exchange money with customers)
  • what will the consequences be if this employee is not required to perform the function?
  • how many other employees are available to perform the function?
  • how much time have present or past employees spent performing this function?
  • the written job description
  • what has been the actual work experience of present or past employees in this job?
  • what degree of expertise or skill is required to perform the function?
  • terms of a collective bargaining agreement, if applicable.

What are the steps involved in developing job accommodations?

  1. Identify accommodation needs: The first step is identifying the areas of a job (tasks, job functions, etc.) that a person with a disability cannot fully perform without some type of accommodation.
  2. Identify accommodation: The next step is identifying the actual modification that will solve the problem. This can sometimes be fairly simple and straightforward, with obvious solutions. Other times, this step requires extensive investigation and outside assistance.
  3. Begin by discussing options with the applicant or employee. Frequently, the appropriate accommodation is obvious. The individual may suggest an accommodation based upon his/her own life or work experience. Assuming that it is reasonable, it is then simply a matter of arranging for the accommodation.
  4. If this consultation does not identify an appropriate accommodation, an employer may need to analyze the job and workplace more thoroughly, and research accommodation options. An employer may choose to do such an analysis independently, or may wish to bring in outside expertise. The state Vocational Rehabilitation agency (a One-Stop partner) and organizations that represent or assist individuals with disabilities may be helpful. In addition, a number of organizations provide free consultation service on accommodations (see resource list at the end of this section).
  5. Through the course of an analysis, be sure to consider all six categories of types of accommodations (listed on page 147).
  6. A comprehensive, systematized approach to identifying accommodations is Job Accommodation System, available from the Institute for Community Inclusion (see resource section).

Who pays for accommodations?

If the accommodation meets the criteria for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (see below), the employer must pay for any costs involved. However, there may be cases where the accommodation is not considered a reasonable accommodation, or where it does not make practical sense for the employer to pay for equipment or assistive technology.

One consideration is ownership of equipment. If the employer pays for a piece of equipment or assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation, the employer owns it, and the individual with a disability may not be able to use it at home or take it to their next job. If the equipment is useful or necessary in a variety of settings, the person with a disability may wish to purchase it themselves, even if it would be reasonable for the employer to pay.
Further information on funding considerations and resources is contained elsewhere in this section.

What are an employers responsibilities for providing job accommodations?

Employers must provide accommodations, and pay any costs involved, to any qualified job applicant or employee if the accommodation is considered reasonable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation is one which does not pose an undue hardship on an employer.

When is an accommodation considered an undue hardship for an employer?

Undue hardship means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of a business. Among the factors considered:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation
  • the resources and size of the business
  • the type of business, including the composition, functions, and structure of the workforce
  • the impact the accommodation would have on the facility and business as a whole.

If an accommodation is considered to be an undue hardship, the employer must attempt to find an alternate solution (see below).

Who decides whether or not an accommodation would pose an undue hardship?

The decision concerning whether an accommodation poses an undue hardship is made by the employer, taking into account the factors listed above. However, employers cannot simply state that will not provide an accommodation, without some type of negotiation and discussion with the applicant or employee. ADA regulations require that employers engage in an interactive process with individuals with disabilities in response to a request for reasonable accommodation.

What alternatives must an employer explore if an accommodation poses an undue hardship?

  • If a particular accommodation would be an undue hardship, an employer must try to identify another accommodation that would not pose such a hardship.
  • If cost causes an accommodation to be judged an undue hardship, an employer must consider whether an outside source, such as a Vocational Rehabilitation agency or tax credit, can offset the cost. Consult the piece on Funding Assistive Technology & Accommodations for information on state and federal tax credits and deductions.
  • The employer must also give the applicant or employee the opportunity to provide the accommodation or pay for the portion of the accommodation that is considered to be excessively expensive.

Who is responsible for requesting an accommodation?

The employee with a disability is responsible for requesting an accommodation.

Who is responsible for identifying an appropriate accommodation?

Ultimately, the employer is responsible. Once a person with a disability has made a request for a reasonable accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to identify a specific solution.

When can an accommodation be requested?

A job accommodation may be requested by the employee with a disability

  • during the job application process
  • after a job offer is made, or
  • at any time during the course of employment.

Employers are specifically prohibited by Title I of the ADA from asking job applicants about the presence of a disability. However, the employer may ask if the individual can perform specific job responsibilities and/or how the person would go about accomplishing those tasks, with or without an accommodation.

  • In particular, if an individuals disability is readily apparent (e.g., an individual uses a wheelchair), the employer may ask how the individual will perform specific job tasks which the employer perceives as potentially problematic given the nature of the individuals disability.
  • Once an individual has requested an accommodation, an employer can ask for more specific information concerning the nature of an individuals disability.

When is it best to request an accommodation?

Requesting accommodations requires some level of disclosure concerning disability, and as with any issue related to disclosure, a number of variables must be considered.

  • Will the accommodation be needed during the interview/hiring process?
  • Is the accommodation needed immediately to perform job duties?
  • What will be the impact of making the request:
    • before hiring?
    • immediately after?
    • after one or more months of employment?

As always with disclosure issues, the job seekers wishes should be absolutely adhered to. However, as career counselors, One-Stop staff should help guide the job seeker through the decision-making process, with consideration of the implications of disclosure and non-disclosure. For more information on disclosure, see section 7.

Is it always a good idea to wait until the hiring process has been completed, and leave it up to the employer to identify the accommodation?

The law is clear: once a request has been made, it is the employers legal responsibility to identify a reasonable accommodation. However, practical realities may call for a different approach.

  • Accommodation needed for application process - Given the subjective nature of the hiring process, if the individual needs an accommodation to apply for a position, its probably best to avoid approaching the employer with the attitude, You need to find me an accommodation so that I can apply for this job. Applicants can actually take the accommodation process as an opportunity to demonstrate their competence. It creates a positive impression when job applicants have a clear idea of what types of accommodations they need and how these can be arranged.
    • Such accommodations can be simple (an accessible office, materials in Braille) or more involved (a short-term job try-out in lieu of or in addition to the traditional hiring routine of application, interview, and testing).
    • When asking for such accommodations, the job applicant should clarify to the employer how the accommodation(s) will allow the employer to give the applicant equal consideration.
  • Identification of reasonable accommodation needed for a positive hiring decision - For everyone, part of the hiring process is convincing an employer that they can perform the tasks of a job. Again, remember that hiring is a subjective process, based on the perceptions and impressions of the employer.
    • Better: I can do this job and heres how I can do it (via the accommodation which Ive identified).
    • Worse: I can do this job, but youll have to figure out how (by finding me an accommodation).
  • Need for training on assistive technology - If the accommodation consists of a piece of equipment that requires some training (e.g., a voice activated computer), a person with a disability may need to receive training prior to applying, in order to demonstrate their competence. As in the previous point, the job applicant increases the chances of being hired when they can demonstrate that they have not only identified an accommodation, but are trained on how to use it.

What is the best approach for job seekers when seeking accommodations with employers?

Accommodations are best developed in a spirit of cooperation, not conflict, with employers. Remember, positive relationships with employers are necessary for long-term success. Approach the process as a joint problem-solving exercise with many possible solutions. However, if circumstances warrant it, job seekers and One-Stop staff should not hesitate to gently remind employers that providing reasonable accommodations is not a favor to the potential employee, but something that the law requires.

When requesting accommodations from an employer, it is helpful to consider that employers actually accommodate the needs of all workers through the provisions of desks, chairs, work tools, supplies, etc. These accommodations enable employees to perform the tasks of their job and/or to perform them more efficiently. When a person with a disability requests accommodations, he/she is not asking for anything more than what the employer provides to all other employees - the tools to effectively perform the job.

What are the job applicants or employees options if an employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation?

If ultimately an employer will not provide an accommodation, even after negotiation and advocacy, the job applicant or employee should determine specifically why the employer is unable to provide the accommodation, and which factors are causing the accommodation to pose an undue hardship. If the job applicant or employee disagrees with the employers opinion that the accommodation poses an undue hardship, the following steps can be taken:

  • Consultation with legal advocacy organizations to get a professional opinion on the matter (a listing of such organizations is in the resource section at the back of this manual under Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Legal Information). Discussing situations with legal experts can help in determining whether the employer is truly meeting their legal obligations.
  • If it appears that the employer has not met their legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, the job applicant or employee may wish to determine possible options for legal action, including filing a complaint with the EEOC or state anti-discrimination board. The EEOC has mediation services available which may be able to assist in reaching a solution. [Additional information on filing complaints and mediation is contained in section 8 - ADA and Employment]. Obviously, taking legal action should only be pursued in the rare instances where all other options for reaching a mutually satisfactory solution have been exhausted.

Job Accommodation Categories

Accommodations are often thought of as physical equipment or modifications. However, accommodations can include a wide range of non-physical modifications. It is helpful to consider these six categories (specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act) with the employer and employee when discussing how to resolve task barriers. Examples of specific job accommodations are listed elsewhere in this section.

The following list has been converted from table format.
Funding Source: Employer
Comments: Required to fund only if meets criteria for reasonable accommodation under ADA
For More Information/Contact: Employer costs can be offset by:
ADA Small Business Tax Credit - up to $5,000/yr. Contact IRS via government pages of phone book or www.irs.ustreas.gov
WOTC & WtW Tax Credit Any employer can receive up to $2,400/employee from WOTC, and $8,500/employee from WtW. Contact U.S. Department of Labor via government pages of phone book or at www.doleta.gov/business/Incentives/opptax; forms available by calling (877) 828-2050

Funding Source: Vocational Rehabilitation
Comments: One-Stop partner; must qualify for VR services
For More Information/Contact: VR contact via One-Stop should be able to help

Funding Source: Medicare
Comments: For people who have Medicare health insurance
For More Information/Contact: Contact local Medicare office (government pages of phone book) or HCFA at www.hcfa.gov

Funding Source: Medicaid
Comments: For people with Medicaid health insurance. State may have additional guidelines.
For More Information/Contact: Contact local Medicaid office (government pages of phone book) or HCFA at www.hcfa.gov

Funding Source: Private Insurance
Comments:
For More Information/Contact: Check policy and/or contact carrier

Funding Source: Social Security Work Incentives
Comments: IRWE for people on SSI & SSDI PASS for people on SSI
For More Information/Contact: Contact local Social Security Administration (SSA) office
or call (800) 772-1213. Web site: www.ssa.gov/work

Funding Source: Veterans Affairs
Comments: For people who are veterans or dependents of veterans
For More Information/Contact: Contact the VA via the government pages of the phone
book or at (800) 827-1000; web site: www.va.gov

Funding Source: Local Service, Charitable, Religious, & Civic Organizations
Comments: Check to see if individual with disability has connection with such an
organization
For More Information/Contact: Local community guides and phone books often have
listings of such organizations

Funding Source: Private Foundations
Comments: Application procedures and response time vary significantly
For More Information/Contact:
The Foundation Center
79 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 620-4230 Fax: (212) 691-1828
e-mail: library@fdncenter.org
Web site: http://fdncenter.org
Each state also has a Foundation Center cooperating collection

Publication Resources & References

Information on accommodations is taken in part from:
Roberts, G., Zimbrich, K., Butterworth, J., Hart, D. (1993). Job Accommodation System.
Institute for Community Inclusion, Boston.
Job Accommodation System is a comprehensive guide to the decision making process in developing job accommodations for people with disabilities. Copies of this guide are
available by contacting ICI:
(617) 287-4300
TTY: (617) 287-4350
ici@communityinclusion.org
www.communityinclusion.org

Information in this section on the legal aspects of reasonable accommodations is based in part on material from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission booklet The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer, available at: www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada17.html