What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2020?

The above picture is of the cover page to the Americans with Disabilities Act document.

What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA in 2020?

According to the CDC, one in four adults in the United States is living with a disability. This means that a large portion of the workforce may need some sort of accommodations to allow for gainful employment. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects these individuals by requiring employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow them to perform jobs that they're qualified for.

What is a reasonable accommodation? Here’s everything you need to know. 

Reasonable Accommodation 101

Before diving into the details, let’s start with the very basics.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

In simple terms, it’s a change the employer can make to ensure that a qualified individual with a disability can perform the essential functions of the job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. These changes may involve:

  • The application process
  • The hiring process
  • The job itself
  • The way the job is done
  • The work environment

The accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they don’t create “undue hardship” or a “direct threat” to the employer.

A “person with a disability” can have a physical or a mental problem that interferes with major life activities. Since disabilities aren’t always obvious, employers are allowed to request medical documentation that shows that the employee needs special accommodations.

One of the key elements of reasonable accommodations is that the individual must be qualified to perform the “essential functions of the job.” There are several factors that go into determining "essential functions." This includes:

  • The employer’s definition of what is essential
  • What the job description included before it was advertised
  • The amount of time that’s allocated to the function
  • The negative effects of not requiring the employee to perform the function
  • The work experience of others who have previously held or currently held the job
  • The terms of any collective bargaining agreement that’s in place

Finally, it’s important to understand that not all employers are required to adhere to ADA requirements. Under Federal law, these rules only apply to employers with 15 or more employees.

Some states have different laws that may also require smaller employers to provide reasonable accommodations. It's always a good idea to check your state and local laws before an issue arises.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations can take many different forms. For example, an employer may provide the employee with a flexible schedule, frequent breaks, or a place to sit when standing isn't necessary. The following are some other common "reasonable accommodations."

Alternative Communication Formats

Employers may help people with hearing or communication issues by providing important feedback in writing rather than verbally. They may also provide materials in large font.

Alternatively, an employee who has dyslexia or some other problem that makes reading difficult may request that employers provide instructions and materials in audio format.

Accessible Parking  

An employee who is unable to walk long distances may need a special parking space that’s near the employee entrance. This should be provided in addition to the accessible parking spots meant for customers.

Service Animals

According to the ADA, a service animal is an animal (usually a dog) that is specifically trained to do things for an individual with a disability. Allowing an employee’s service animal into the workplace is considered a reasonable accommodation.

Note that an “emotional support animal” is not the same as a service animal. These animals are not trained to perform specific tasks, but rather to ease emotional distress. While they are an important part of many medical plans, they are not covered under the ADA and employers are not required to allow them into the workplace. 

Equipment or Work Environment Changes

Simple equipment or work environment changes can often make a major difference for an employee with a disability. For example, an employer may lower workstations to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

Another example is the purchase of special software that magnifies the computer screen, making it easier for people with vision problems to perform their job duties.

Job Reorganization

There are many easy ways to reorganize a job to significantly help an employee with a disability. This can usually happen without making a major difference in the way the job is actually done.

For example, an employer may accommodate an employee with memory issues by providing a checklist of important tasks that the employee must perform each day. An employer may also relieve an employee who isn’t able to lift heavy objects from the duty of moving boxes if it isn’t considered an essential part of their job.


Reassignment is a bit more complex than many of the other accommodations. If an employee’s disability makes it such that they can no longer perform the essential tasks of the job, an employer may reassign him or her to another position. However, this is only considered reasonable if:

  • The employer doesn’t have to create a new position
  • No other employees have to be transferred or terminated to create the vacancy
  • The disabled employee is qualified to perform the new job

If all of these factors apply, the employer and employee may agree that this is the best course of action.

Disability Resources for Employers and Job Seekers

A clear understanding of reasonable accommodation can help employers ensure that they meet the requirements. It can also help job seekers with disabilities understand the kinds of requests they can make.

Whether you’re an employer or a person with a disability, we have plenty of resources to help you learn about best practices in the workplace, job search tips, and more.

Check out the Disability Resources section of our website. Make sure to bookmark it and check back often so you’re always on top of the latest news.