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  • Christinne Rudd

Workplace Accommodations Level the Playing Field for Employees with Disabilities

Employment protections for people with disabilities are covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). One of the most fundamental principles of the ADA is that people with disabilities who want to work and are qualified to work must have an equal opportunity to work.

When thinking of job accommodations for an employee with a disability, most employers may have the misconception that accommodations in the workplace tend to be outrageous but that is the farthest thing from the truth. Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that would allow a person with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.

Title I of the ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees on their staff. There are some state and local laws that may require employers with fewer employees to provide reasonable accommodations as well. Just as with any other issue where a self-advocate must engage in some form of advocacy, there is a process that needs to be followed to request what is commonly referred to as a workplace accommodation. It’s important not only to follow the process set forth by the employer to request the necessary accommodation, but to also keep accurate documentation of the steps that have been taken to implement the necessary changes in the workplace. Additionally, the outcome of each step should be documented in case you encounter any issues with your request.

An example of a workplace accommodation under the ADA might be if an employer reasonably changes their office’s “no animals” policy, to welcome an employee’s service animal. A second example of this might be something as simple as requesting a printer be placed in the employee’s office to limit the amount of walking that individual would have to do to complete job tasks.

As long as the accommodation doesn’t cost an excessive amount, according to the ADA, your employer is supposed to work with you to make the accommodation you need to do your job. An employer is not required to make an accommodation if it would impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. "Undue hardship" is defined as an "action requiring significant difficulty or expense" when considered in conjunction with several factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer's operation. If you aren’t sure what accommodations might be right for your situation, you could reach out to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for further assistance. They provide free consulting services for all employees, regardless of the condition. Services include one-on-one consultation about all aspects of job accommodations, including the accommodation process, accommodation ideas, product vendors, referral to other resources, and ADA compliance assistance. Additionally, Disability Rights Florida (DRF) may be able to provide basic assistance in navigating the process by acting as an intermediary between the employee and employer during the process.

If you feel your rights as a person with a disability have been violated by your employer for failing to grant your request for a reasonable accommodation, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is a good time to have the documentation mentioned earlier to help you retrace your steps when filing the complaint or going through the process with the EEOC to get the dispute resolved.

At the end of the experience, the self-advocate will have empowered themselves with valuable knowledge of the protections available to them. They will also gain real-world experience in utilizing supports to help meet their specific needs. As a result, they will not only become an increasingly productive member of that company’s team, but experience a boost in their self-esteem because they were able to accomplish a goal they set for themselves that allows them to be more fully integrated into their communities.

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