Do You Qualify for ADA Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace?


The above picture is of a woman sitting in her wheelchair at a power saw measuring a piece of wood for a cut.

Do You Qualify for ADA Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation. People with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. 

The government updated the law in 2008 with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). These statutes protect you if you have a disability and are searching for a job, or if you become disabled and are fearful of losing your job. 

Employers must make ADA reasonable accommodation for employees or job applicants with disabilities. However, defining what a "reasonable accommodation" is and whether you are entitled to it is not necessarily obvious.

Here are six things to know if you think you may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA by an employer. 

1. You Need to Qualify for the Job 

Employers are not allowed to rule out disabled applicants for jobs for which they are qualified. For example, if you have mobility challenges but are able to use a computer, there are many jobs for which you may be qualified. 

However, you need to have the certification, education, or skills necessary to do the job.

An employer is not compelled to consider disabled applicants unable to perform necessary tasks for the job. For example, they can include a condition of employment in a job posting that specifies that the employee must be able to lift 35 pounds or remain on their feet for a certain number of hours per day. 

2. Your Disability Must Fall within the ADA's Definition

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity like walking, talking, hearing or seeing. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. 

Some medical conditions which qualify as disabilities include:

  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Diabetes
  • Partial or completely missing limbs
  • Mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • HIV 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy

Mental illnesses can also qualify.

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Sexual preferences, gender identity, gambling, current drug addiction, and being left-handed are examples of characteristics which are usually not considered to fall under AADA. 

3. You Should Document Your Disability and Requested Accommodation 

Requesting accommodation in the workplace is a negotiation. You should speak directly with your employer about what you would like and how your disability might be accommodated.

You should keep track of all communications with HR and other executives to show your good faith negotiations. 

Your employer may request some medical records from you to document your need. While you are not required to disclose all the medical details of your disability, they have the right to not only ask, but to deny your request if you do not provide corroboration. This is especially important if your disability is not immediately apparent or visible. 

4. Not All Employers Are Obliged to Accommodate 

A business with 14 or fewer full-time employees or is in business for less than 20 weeks a year is not required to comply with the ADA. Learn some ADA Basics Here.

Religious organizations and private clubs are also exempt, including churches, synagogues, mosques and other facilities controlled by a religious organization, such as a school or daycare center.

5. Employers Do Not Have to Incur Undue Hardship to Accommodate 

You may have many skills that you bring to the workplace. However, employers are not required to change the requirements of a job or make drastic and expensive changes to their business in order to accommodate people with disabilities.

An employer is not expected to incur undue hardship to accommodate someone with disabilities. They do not have to undertake changes which would be unduly expensive, disruptive, or which would fundamentally alter the nature of their business. 

Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • making existing facilities accessible
  • providing readers or interpreters
  • reassignment of duties
  • offering work at home or part-time work schedules
  • job restructuring

Some bosses may build ramps to accommodate wheelchairs or offer parking spaces close to the facility. The workspace's doorways, aisles, and bathrooms should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

If a job normally takes place on the second floor of a building and only has a staircase, the employer should offer the disabled person an office on the first floor. They do not have to rebuild their entire building to add an elevator.

6. Reasonable Means Reasonable 

An employer does not have to undertake accommodations considered to be unreasonable. They does not have to significantly change the nature of the job or the person’s production to accommodate someone.

If the workspace is a noisy factory and the employee suffers from PTSD triggered by loud noises, the employer may offer the individual a job in an office instead of on the factory floor. The employer does not have to change her entire operation in order to make production quieter. 

The boss also does not have to supply equipment to accommodate the employee if it is used outside of work as well. For example, the employer does not have to buy the person a wheelchair or prosthetic. 

ADA Reasonable Accommodation: Assuring People with Disabilities Equal Rights to Employment

Under the ADA, otherwise qualified job applicants or employees with physical and/or mental disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodation.  If you can do the duties required of a job but need a specially designed work area or desk, or to work part-time, your boss should give you that option. 

If your boss denied your request for ADA reasonable accommodation or if you think you have been denied a job opportunity because of your disability, you have rights under the ADA. The ADA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

You must file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You may be entitled to legal remedies such as hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation.

For more information on getting and keeping jobs when you have a disability and other issues of interest to veterans, check out our blog.