Reasonable Accommodations


The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified persons with disabilities unless such accommodations would cause an undue hardship to the employer. A disabled person under the ADA is someone who is substantially limited in the ability to perform a major life activity or who has a record of such an impairment or who is regarded as having such an impairment. To be qualified as a disabled person under the ADA, an individual must show an ability to perform all of the essential job functions either with or without a reasonable accommodation. Courts look at mitigating measures in determining whether an individual is disabled. For example, persons who need eyeglasses may be substantially limited in the ability to read, which is a major life activity, unless they wear eyeglasses. Because eyeglasses mitigate their bad vision and allow them to read normally, they are not considered to disabled under the ADA.

There are three general types of reasonable accommodations. The first type modifies the job application process to enable qualified job applicants with a disability to be considered for the job they want. The second type modifies the work environment or the manner in which the job is performed to allow disabled individuals to perform the job’s essential functions. The third type modifies the workplace to allow disabled employees equal benefits and privileges as similarly situated employees without disabilities.

More specific types of reasonable accommodations may include making an office wheelchair accessible; restructuring jobs; providing part-time or modified work schedules; modifying or purchasing special furniture or equipment; changing employment policies; providing readers or interpreters; and reassigning disabled individuals to vacant positions. An employer is not required to eliminate an essential job function or fundamental duty of the job to accommodate a disabled person. An employer is not required to lower production quotas or standards that apply to all employees, although an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to help a disabled individual meet production quotas or standards. An employer is not required to provide disabled employees with personal use items that are necessary both on and off the job, for example, hearing aids.

The ADA does not require that reasonable accommodations be made when the accommodations would cause employers an undue hardship. Undue hardship means significant difficulty or expense when compared with the employer’s resources and circumstances. The employer’s financial capabilities are one factor in defining undue hardship, but undue hardship also occurs when the reasonable accommodation would be unduly extensive or disruptive or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Courts determine on a case-by-case basis whether a reasonable accommodation would be an undue hardship for the employer.