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ADA 101: Types of reasonable accommodations employers should make for four common disabilities

Article by Laura Benson

Since July 26, 2014 marked the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), let’s take a more in-depth look at some examples of reasonable accommodations employers should make for four common disabilities covered by this wide-ranging civil rights law. As a refresher, the ADA applies to all businesses with fifteen or more employees and government agencies. As most employers are probably aware, the ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and employees based on a physical or mental disability if they are otherwise qualified. The law also requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to those applicants or employees, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Undue hardship is typically thought of as significant difficulty or expense. But what types of reasonable accommodations are necessary for an employer to make?

The types of accommodations an employer must provide will vary depending on the needs of the individual with the disability, and not all individuals with a disability will require an accommodation. Essentially, a reasonable accommodation enables job applicants and employees to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Most will involve little or no cost to the employer. On May 15, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued materials on four common disabilities covered by the ADA: cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and intellectual disabilities. Summarized below are the reasonable accommodations employers have had to make with respect to these four disabilities.

To request a reasonable accommodation, an employee need not use those specific words. Rather, an employee merely needs to request that an adjustment be made at work because of his/her disability. The request can also come from a health care professional, friend or family member. The employer may request basic documentation of the disability prior to making an accommodation, but may not request access to the employee’s medical records.

CANCER. Accommodations may need to be granted due to limitations imposed by the cancer itself, the side effects of medication, or treatment, including but not limited to:

1. Granting leave for doctor’s appointments
2. Granting leave to recuperate from cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy
3. Granting periodic breaks and/or providing a private area to rest or take medication
4. Granting a modified work schedule
5. Granting a shift change
6. Granting permission to work at home
7. Modifying office temperature
8. Permitting the employee to use a work telephone to speak with doctors
9. Distributing marginal tasks to other employees
10. Reassigning the employee to a vacant position when the employee is no longer able to perform his/her current position

DIABETES. Accommodations may need to be granted due to limitations imposed by the diabetes itself or side effects from medication, including, but not limited to:

1. Providing a private area for the employee to test blood sugar level and/or to administer insulin injections
2. Providing a place for the employee to rest until his/her blood sugar levels normalize
3. Granting breaks to eat, drink, take medication and/or test blood sugar levels
4. Granting leave for treatment, recuperation or training on diabetes management
5. Granting a modified work schedule
6. Granting a shift change
7. Allowing an individual with neuropathy to use a stool and/or chair
8. Distributing marginal tasks to other employees
9. Reassigning the employee to a vacant position when the employee is no longer able to perform his/her current position

EPILEPSY. Accommodations may need to be granted due to limitations imposed by the epilepsy itself or side effects from medication, including, but not limited to:
1. Granting breaks to take medication
2. Granting leave to seek and/or recuperate from treatment
3. Granting leave to adjust to new medication
4. Providing a private area to allow the employee to rest after having a seizure
5. Providing a rubber mat or carpet to cushion a fall
6. Granting adjustments to a work schedule
7. Granting a shift change
8. Providing a consistent start time
9. Providing a checklist to assist in remembering tasks
10. Permitting a service animal be brought to work
11. Providing transportation to meetings and other work-related events
12. Granting permission to work at home
13. Reassigning the employee to a vacant position when the employee is no longer able to perform his/her current position

INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES. Accommodations may need to be granted to job applicants and to employees due to limitations imposed by intellectual disabilities, including, but not limited to:

1. Providing someone to read or interpret job application materials for a person who has a limited ability to read or understand complex information
2. Demonstrating, rather than describing to the job applicant, what the job requires
3. Modifying tests, training materials and/or policy manuals
4. Replacing a written test with an “expanded” interview
5. Distributing marginal tasks to other employees
6. Training the employee at a slower pace
7. Allowing the employee additional time to finish training
8. Breaking down job tasks into sequential steps
9. Using charts, pictures or color coding mechanisms to aid the employee in tasks
10. Providing a tape recorder to record directions as a reminder of steps in a task
11. Using detailed schedules for completing tasks
12. Providing additional training when necessary
13. Providing a job coach who can assist the employee in learning how to do the job, provide monitoring, training, assessment and support, help develop a working relationship between the employee and management, encourage appropriate social interaction with other employees, and/or assist management in determining what reasonable accommodations are needed
14. Modifying a work schedule
15. Granting a shift change
16. Allowing the employee to bring someone to a job evaluation or disciplinary meeting to help him/her ask questions and explain the purpose of the meeting
17. Acquiring equipment or devices
18. Modifying equipment or devices
19. Relocating work station placement
20. Reassigning an employee to a vacant position when the employee is no longer able to perform his/her current position

It’s important to keep in mind that for each of the “reasonable accommodations” listed above, if any of them impose an undue hardship on an employer, they are no longer considered to be “reasonable.” An employer does not need to provide an accommodation to an employee if it will effectively eliminate an essential function of that employee’s job, or will lead to performance that does not meet its standards. Additionally, if the employee’s requested accommodation is too difficult or costly, an employer may choose a different accommodation as long as it meets the employee’s needs. Every employee and every employer is different. Each situation needs to be addressed specifically with that employee and employer in mind.