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What defines reasonable accommodation?

If you are one of the estimated 48.9 Americans who have a disability, you likely already know that the Americans with Disability Act protects you from workplace discrimination. In a nutshell, prospective employers cannot discriminate against you based on your disability, and any employer who hires you must provide you with reasonable accommodations that allow you to successfully perform your work.

Per the ADA National Network, however, you must qualify as a disabled person in order for the ADA to apply to you. In other words, you must have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an “actual disability”).”

Reasonable accommodation

No one-size-fits-all definition exists for what constitutes reasonable accommodations. Instead, courts have gone on a case-by-case basis since the ADA’s adoption in 1990 to determine reasonableness based on specific disabilities and specific employment situations.

In general, the U.S. Supreme Court has established the following as reasonable accommodations under the ADA:

  • Wheelchair accessibility that allows you to get in and out of your building and your workspace within it
  • Elevators that allow you to get from floor to floor in your building
  • A reserved handicapped parking space that includes sufficient room for wheelchair accessibility
  • Special equipment and supplies you need to perform your job, such as large-type materials if you are visually impaired and/or special computer programs and apps if you are visually or hearing impaired
  • Appropriately formatted and presented instructional materials so you can learn your job, and similarly adapted testing materials if your employer wishes to test you
  • An exception to your employer’s no-pets policy that allows you to bring your service animal to work

Unfortunately, not all employers must comply with ADA regulations. For instance, companies that employ fewer than 15 people are exempt from the reasonable accommodation mandate. Larger companies can sometimes obtain a waiver if the accommodation(s) they would have to build or install would cause them economic hardship.

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