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Chapter III: The Reasonable Accommodation Obligation

3.10 Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

1. Making Facilities Accessible and Usable

The ADA establishes different requirements for accessibility under different sections of the Act. A private employer's obligation to make its facilities accessible to its job applicants and employees under Title I of the ADA differs from the obligation of a place of public accommodation to provide access in existing facilities to its customers and clients, and from the obligations of public accommodations and commercial facilities to provide accessibility in renovated or newly constructed buildings under Title III of the Act. The obligation of a state and local government to provide access for applicants and employees under Title I also differs from its obligation to provide accessibility under Title II of the ADA.

The employer's obligation under Title I is to provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job, including access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees. The employer must provide such access unless it would cause an undue hardship.

Under Title I, an employer is not required to make its existing facilities accessible until a particular applicant or employee with a particular disability needs an accommodation, and then the modifications should meet that individual's work needs. The employer does not have to make changes to provide access in places or facilities that will not be used by that individual for employment related activities or benefits.

In contrast, Title III of the ADA requires that places of public accommodation (such as banks, retail stores, theaters, hotels and restaurants) make their goods and services accessible generally, to all people with disabilities. Under Title III, existing buildings and facilities of a public accommodation must be made accessible by removing architectural barriers or communications barriers that are structural in nature, if this is "readily achievable." If this is not "readily achievable," services must be provided to people with disabilities in some alternative manner if this is "readily achievable."

The obligation for state and local governments to provide "program accessibility" in existing facilities under Title II also differs from their obligation to provide access as employers under Title I. Title II requires that these governments operate each service, program or activity in existing facilities so that, when viewed in its entirety, it is readily accessible to and useable by persons with disabilities, unless this would cause a "fundamental alteration" in the nature of the program or service, or would result in "undue financial and administrative burdens."

In addition, private employers that occupy commercial facilities or operate places of public accommodation and state and local governments must conform to more extensive accessibility requirements under Title III and Title II when making alterations to existing facilities or undertaking new construction. (see Requirements for Renovation and New Construction below.)

The accessibility requirements under Title II and III are established in Department of Justice regulations. Employers may contact the Justice Department's Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act for information on these requirements and for copies of the regulations with applicable accessibility guidelines.

When making changes to meet an individual's needs under Title I, an employer will find it helpful to consult the applicable Department of Justice accessibility guidelines as a starting point. It is advisable to make changes that conform to these guidelines, if they meet the individual's needs and do not impose an undue hardship, since such changes will be useful in the future for accommodating others. However, even if a modification meets the standards required under Title II or III, further adaptations may be needed to meet the needs of a particular individual.

For example: A restroom may be modified to meet standard accessibility requirements (including wider door and stalls, and grab bars in specified locations) but it may be necessary to install a lower grab bar for a very short person in a wheelchair so that this person can transfer from the chair to the toilet.

Although the requirement for accessibility in employment is triggered by the needs of a particular individual, employers should consider initiating changes that will provide general accessibility, particularly for job applicants, since it is likely that people with disabilities will apply for jobs in the future.

For example: Employment offices and interview facilities should be accessible to people using wheelchairs and others with mobility impairments. Plans also should be in place for making job information accessible and for communicating with people who have visual or hearing impairments. (See Chapter V . for additional guidance on accommodation in the application process.)

Accessibility to Perform the Essential Functions of the Job

The obligation to provide accessibility for a qualified individual with a disability includes accessibility of the job site itself and all work-related facilities.

Examples of accommodations that may be needed to make facilities accessible and usable include:

Requirements for Renovation or New Construction

While an employer's requirements for accessibility under Title I relate to accommodation of an individual, as described above, employers will have more extensive accessibility requirements under Title II or III of the ADA if they make renovations to their facilities or undertake new construction.

Title III of the ADA requires that any alterations to, or new construction of "commercial facilities," as well as places of public accommodation, made after January 26, 1992, must conform to the "ADA Accessibility Guidelines" (incorporated in Department of Justice Title III regulations). "Commercial facilities" are defined as any nonresidential facility whose operations affect commerce, including office buildings, factories and warehouses; therefore, the facilities of most employers will be subject to this requirement. An alteration is any change that affects the "usability" of a facility; it does not include normal maintenance, such as painting, roofing or changes to mechanical or electrical systems, unless the changes affect the "usability" of the facility.

For example: If, during remodeling or renovation, a doorway is relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the requirements of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

Under Title III, all newly constructed public accommodations and commercial facilities for which the last building permit is certified after January 26, 1992, and which are occupied after January 26, 1993, must be accessible in accordance with the standards of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. However, Title III does not require elevators in facilities under 3 stories or with less than 3000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center, mall, professional office of a health provider, or public transportation station.

Under Title II, any alterations to, or new construction of, State or local government facilities made after January 26, 1992, must conform either with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (however, the exception regarding elevators does not apply to State or local governments) or with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. Facilities under design on January 26, 1992 must comply with this requirement if bids were invited after that date.

Providing accessibility in remodeled and new buildings usually can be accomplished at minimal additional cost. Over time, fully accessible new and remodeled buildings will reduce the need for many types of individualized reasonable accommodations. Employers planning alterations to their facilities or new construction should contact the Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S. Department of Justice for information on accessibility requirements, including the ADA Accessibility Guidelines and the Uniform Federal Accessibility Guidelines. Employers may get specific technical information and guidance on accessibility by calling, toll-free, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, at 1-800-USA-ABLE.

2. Job Restructuring

Job restructuring or job modification is a form of reasonable accommodation which enables many qualified individuals with disabilities to perform jobs effectively. Job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation may involve reallocating or redistributing the marginal functions of a job. However, an employer is not required to reallocate essential functions of a job as a reasonable accommodation. Essential functions, by definition, are those that a qualified individual must perform, with or without an accommodation.

For example: Inspection of identification cards is generally an essential function of the job of a security job. If a person with a visual impairment could not verify the identification of an individual using the photo and other information on the card, the employer would not be required to transfer this function to another employee.

Job restructuring frequently is accomplished by exchanging marginal functions of a job that cannot be performed by a person with a disability for marginal job functions performed by one or more other employees.

For example: An employer may have two jobs, each containing essential functions and a number of marginal functions. The employer may hire an individual with a disability who can perform the essential functions of one job and some, but not all, of the marginal functions of both jobs. As an accommodation, the employer may redistribute the marginal functions so that all of the functions that can be performed by the person with a disability are in this person's job and the remaining marginal functions are transferred to the other job.

Although an employer is not required to reallocate essential job functions, it may be a reasonable accommodation to modify the essential functions of a job by changing when or how they are done.

For example: An essential function that is usually performed in the early morning might be rescheduled to be performed later in the day, if an individual has a disability that makes it impossible to perform this function in the morning, and this would not cause an undue hardship. A person who has a disability that makes it difficult to write might be allowed to computerize records that have been maintained manually. A person with mental retardation who can perform job tasks but has difficulty remembering the order in which to do the tasks might be provided with a list to check off each task; the checklist could be reviewed by a supervisor at the end of the day.

Technical assistance in restructuring or modifying jobs for individuals with specific limitations can be obtained from state vocational rehabilitation agencies and other organizations with expertise in job analysis and job restructuring for people with various disabilities.

3. Modified Work Schedules

An employer should consider modification of a regular work schedule as a reasonable accommodation unless this would cause an undue hardship. Modified work schedules may include flexibility in work hours or the work week, or part-time work, where this will not be an undue hardship.

Many people with disabilities are fully qualified to perform jobs with the accommodation of a modified work schedule. Some people are unable to work a standard 9-5 work day, or a standard Monday to Friday work week; others need some adjustment to regular schedules.

Some examples of modified work schedules as a reasonable accommodation: An accountant with a mental disability required two hours off, twice weekly, for sessions with a psychiatrist. He was permitted to take longer lunch breaks and to make up the time by working later on those days. A machinist has diabetes and must follow a strict schedule to keep blood sugar levels stable. She must eat on a regular schedule and take insulin at set times each day. This means that she cannot work the normal shift rotations for machinists. As an accommodation, she is assigned to one shift on a permanent basis. An employee who needs kidney dialysis treatment is unable to work on two days because his treatment is only available during work hours on weekdays. Depending on the nature of his work and the nature of the employer's operation, it may be possible, without causing an undue hardship, for him to work Saturday and Sunday in place of the two weekdays, to perform work assignments at home on the weekend, or to work three days a week as part-time employee.

People whose disabilities may need modified work schedules include those who require special medical treatment for their disability (such as cancer patients, people who have AIDS, or people with mental illness); people who need rest periods (including some people who have multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, respiratory conditions, or mental illness); people whose disabilities (such as diabetes) are affected by eating or sleeping schedules; and people with mobility and other impairments who find it difficult to use public transportation during peak hours, or who must depend upon special para-transit schedules.

4. Flexible Leave Policies

Flexible leave policies should be considered as a reasonable accommodation when people with disabilities require time off from work because of their disability. An employer is not required to provide additional paid leave as an accommodation, but should consider allowing use of accrued leave, advanced leave, or leave without pay, where this will not cause an undue hardship.

People with disabilities may require special leave for a number of reasons related to their disability, such as:

5. Reassignment to a Vacant Position

In general, the accommodation of reassignment should be considered only when an accommodation is not possible in an employee's present job, or when an accommodation in the employee's present job would cause an undue hardship. Reassignment also may be a reasonable accommodation if both employer and employee agree that this is more appropriate than accommodation in the present job.

Consideration of reassignment is only required for employees. An employer is not required to consider a different position for a job applicant if s/he is not able to perform the essential functions of the position s/he is applying for, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Reassignment may be an appropriate accommodation when an employee becomes disabled, when a disability becomes more severe, or when changes or technological developments in equipment affect the job performance of an employee with a disability. If there is no accommodation that will enable the person to perform the present job, or if it would be an undue hardship for the employer to provide such accommodation, reassignment should be considered.

Reassignment may not be used to limit, segregate, or otherwise discriminate against an employee with a disability. An employer may not reassign people with disabilities only to certain undesirable positions, or only to certain offices or facilities.

Reassignment should be made to a position equivalent to the one presently held in terms of pay and other job status, if the individual is qualified for the position and if such a position is vacant or will be vacant within a reasonable amount of time. A "reasonable amount of time" should be determined on a case-by-case basis, considering relevant factors such as the types of jobs for which the employee with a disability would be qualified; the frequency with which such jobs become available; the employer's general policies regarding reassignments of employees; and any specific policies regarding sick or injured employees.

For example: If there is no vacant position available at the time that an individual with a disability requires a reassignment, but the employer knows that an equivalent position for which this person is qualified will become vacant within one or two weeks, the employer should reassign the individual to the position when it becomes available.

An employer may reassign an individual to a lower graded position if there are no accommodations that would enable the employee to remain in the current position and there are no positions vacant or soon to be vacant for which the employee is qualified (with or without an accommodation). In such a situation, the employer does not have to maintain the individual's salary at the level of the higher graded position, unless it does so for other employees who are reassigned to lower graded positions.

An employer is not required to create a new job or to bump another employee from a job in order to provide reassignment as a reasonable accommodation. Nor is an employer required to promote an individual with a disability to make such an accommodation.

6. Acquisition or Modification of Equipment and Devices

Purchase of equipment or modifications to existing equipment may be effective accommodations for people with many types of disabilities.

There are many devices that make it possible for people to overcome existing barriers to performing functions of a job. These devices range from very simple solutions, such as an elastic band that can enable a person with cerebral palsy to hold a pencil and write, to "high-tech" electronic equipment that can be operated with eye or head movements by people who cannot use their hands.

There are also many ways to modify standard equipment so as to enable people with different functional limitations to perform jobs effectively and safely. Many of these assistive devices and modifications are inexpensive. Frequently, applicants and employees with disabilities can suggest effective low cost devices or equipment. They have had a great deal of experience in accommodating their disabilities, and many are informed about new and available equipment. Where the job requires special adaptations of equipment, the employer and the applicant or employee should use the process described earlier (see ) to identify the exact functional abilities and limitations of the individual in relation to functional job needs, and to determine what type of assistance may be needed.

There are many sources of technical assistance to help identify and locate devices and equipment for specific job applications. An employer may be able to get information needed simply by telephoning the Job Accommodation Network, a free consulting service on accommodations, or your regional DBTAC at 1-800-949-4232. Employers who need further assistance may use resources such as vocational rehabilitation specialists, occupational therapists and Independent Living Centers who will come on site to conduct a job analysis and recommend appropriate equipment or job modifications.

As indicated above (see 3.4 ), an employer is only obligated to provide equipment that is needed to perform a job; there is no obligation to provide equipment that the individual uses regularly in daily life, such as glasses, a hearing aid or a wheelchair. However, as previously stated, the employer may be obligated to provide items of this nature if special adaptations are required to perform a job.

For example: It may be a reasonable accommodation to provide an employee with a motorized wheelchair if her job requires movement between buildings that are widely separated, and her disability prevents her operation of a wheelchair manually for that distance, or if heavy, deep-pile carpeting prevents operation of a manual wheelchair.

In some cases, it may be a reasonable accommodation to allow an applicant or employee to provide and use equipment that an employer would not be obligated to provide.

For example: It would be a reasonable accommodation to allow an individual with a visual disability to provide his own guide dog.

Some examples of equipment and devices that may be reasonable accommodations:

  • TDDs (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf) make it possible for people with hearing and/or speech impairments to communicate over the telephone
  • telephone amplifiers are useful for people with hearing impairments
  • special software for standard computers and other equipment can enlarge print or convert print documents to spoken words for people with vision and/or reading disabilities
  • tactile markings on equipment in brailled or raised print are helpful to people with visual impairments
  • telephone headsets and adaptive light switches can be used by people with cerebral palsy or other manual disabilities
  • talking calculators can be used by people with visual or reading disabilities
  • speaker phones may be effective for people who are amputees or have other mobility impairments
  • Some examples of effective low cost assistive devices as reported by the Job Accommodation Network and other sources:

  • a timer with an indicator light allowed a medical technician who was deaf to perform laboratory tests. Cost $27.00
  • a clerk with limited use of her hands was provided a "lazy susan" file holder that enabled her to reach all materials needed for her job. Cost $85.00
  • A groundskeeper who had limited use of one arm was provided a detachable extension arm for a rake. This enabled him to grasp the handle on the extension with the impaired hand and control the rake with the functional arm. Cost $20.00
  • A desk layout was changed from the right to left side to enable a data entry operator who is visually impaired to perform her job. Cost $0
  • A telephone amplifier designed to work with a hearing aid allowed a plant worker to retain his job and avoid transfer to a lower paid job. Cost $24.00
  • A blind receptionist was provided a light probe which allowed her to determine which lines on the switchboard were ringing, on hold, or in use. (A light-probe gives an audible signal when held over an illuminated source.) Cost $50.00 to $100.00
  • A person who had use of only one hand, working in a food service position could perform all tasks except opening cans. She was provided with a one-handed can opener. Cost $35.00
  • Purchase of a light weight mop and a smaller broom enabled an employee with Downs syndrome and congenital heart problems to do his job with minimal strain. Cost under $40
  • A truck driver had carpal tunnel syndrome which limited his wrist movement and caused extreme discomfort in cold weather. A special wrist splint used with a glove designed for skin divers made it possible for him to drive even in extreme weather conditions. Cost $55.00
  • A phone headset allowed an insurance salesman with cerebral palsy to write while talking to clients. Rental cost $6.00 per month
  • A simple cardboard form, called a "jig" made it possible for a person with mental retardation to properly fold jeans as a stock clerk in a retail store. Cost $0
  • Many recent technological innovations make it possible for people with severe disabilities to be very productive employees. Although some of this equipment is expensive, Federal tax credits, tax deductions, and other sources of financing are available to help pay for higher cost equipment.

    For example: A company hired a person who was legally blind as a computer operator. The State Commission for the Blind paid half of the cost of a braille terminal. Since all programmers were provided with computers, the cost of the accommodation to this employer was only one- half of the difference in cost between the braille terminal and a regular computer. A smaller company also would be eligible for a tax credit for such cost. (See Tax Credit for Small Business , below)

    For sources of information and technical assistance to help employers develop or locate "assistive devices and equipment," contact your regional DBTAC at 1-800-949-4232.

    7. Adjusting and Modifying Examinations, Training Materials, and Policies

    An employer may be required to modify, adjust, or make other reasonable accommodations in the ways that tests and training are administered in order to provide equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities. Revisions to other employment policies and practices also may be required as reasonable accommodations.

    a. Tests and Examinations

    Accommodations may be needed to assure that tests or examinations measure the actual ability of an individual to perform job functions, rather than reflecting limitations caused by the disability. The ADA requires that tests be given to people who have sensory, speaking, or manual impairments in a format that does not require the use of the impaired skill, unless that is the job-related skill the test is designed to measure.

    For example: An applicant who has dyslexia, which causes difficulty in reading, should be given an oral rather than a written test, unless reading is an essential function of the job. Or, an individual with a visual disability or a learning disability might be allowed more time to take a test, unless the test is designed to measure speed required on a job.

    The employer is only required to provide a reasonable accommodation for a test if the individual with a disability requests such an accommodation. But the employer has an obligation to inform job applicants in advance that a test will be given, so that an individual who needs an accommodation can make such a request. (See Chapter V . for further guidance on accommodations in testing.)

    b. Training

    Reasonable accommodation should be provided, when needed, to give employees with disabilities equal opportunity for training to perform their jobs effectively and to progress in employment. Needed accommodations may include: providing accessible training sites providing training materials in alternate formats to accommodate a disability

    For example: An individual with a visual disability may need training materials on tape, in large print, or on a computer diskette. A person with mental retardation may need materials in simplified language or may need help in understanding test instructions modifying the manner in which training is provided

    For example: It may be a reasonable accommodation to allow more time for training or to provide extra assistance to people with learning disabilities or people with mental impairments.

    Additional guidance on accommodations in training is provided in Chapter VII .

    c. Other Policies

    Adjustments to various existing policies may be necessary to provide reasonable accommodation. As discussed above (see 3.10.3 and 3.10.4 ), modifications to existing leave policies and regular work hours may be required as accommodations. Or, for example, a company may need to modify a policy prohibiting animals in the work place, so that a visually impaired person can use a guide dog. Policies on providing information to employees may need adjustment to assure that all information is available in accessible formats for employees with disabilities. Policies on emergency evacuations should be adjusted to provide effective accommodations for people with different disabilities. (See Chapter VII ).

    8. Providing Qualified Readers

    It may be a reasonable accommodation to provide a reader for a qualified individual with a disability, if this would not impose an undue hardship.

    For example: A court has held under the Rehabilitation Act that it was not an undue hardship for a large state agency to provide full-time readers for three blind employees, in view of its very substantial budget. However, it may be an undue hardship for a smaller agency or business to provide such an accommodation.

    In some job situations a reader may be the most effective and efficient accommodation, but in other situations alternative accommodations may enable an individual with a visual disability to perform job tasks just as effectively.

    When an applicant or employee has a visual disability, the employer and the individual should use the "process" outlined in 3.8 above to identify specific limitations of the individual in relation to specific needs of the job and to assess possible accommodations.

    For example: People with visual impairments perform many jobs that do not require reading. Where reading is an essential job function, depending on the nature of a visual impairment and the nature of job tasks, print magnification equipment or a talking computer may be more effective for the individual and less costly for an employer than providing another employee as a reader. Where an individual has to read lengthy documents, a reader who transcribes documents onto tapes may be a more effective accommodation.

    Providing a reader does not mean that it is necessary to hire a full-time employee for this service. Few jobs require an individual to spend all day reading. A reader may be a part-time employee or full-time employee who performs other duties. However, the person who reads to a visually impaired employee must read well enough to enable the individual to perform his or her job effectively. It would not be a reasonable accommodation to provide a reader whose poor skills hinder the job performance of the individual with a disability.

    9. Providing Qualified Interpreters

    Providing an interpreter on an "as-needed" basis may be a reasonable accommodation for a person who is deaf in some employment situations, if this does not impose an undue hardship.

    If an individual with a disability is otherwise qualified to perform essential job functions, the employer's basic obligation is to provide an accommodation that will enable this person to perform the job effectively. A person who is deaf or hearing- impaired should be able to communicate effectively with others as required by the duties of the job. Identifying the needs of the individual in relation to specific job tasks will determine whether or when an interpreter may be needed. The resources available to the employer would be considered in determining whether it would be an undue hardship to provide such an accommodation.

    For example: It may be necessary to obtain a qualified interpreter for a job interview, because for many jobs the applicant and interviewer must communicate fully and effectively to evaluate whether the applicant is qualified to do the job. Once hired, however, if the individual is doing clerical work, research, computer applications, or other job tasks that do not require much verbal communication, an interpreter may only be needed occasionally. Interpretation may be necessary for training situations, staff meetings or an employee party, so that this person can fully participate in these functions. Communication on the job may be handled through different means, depending on the situation, such as written notes, "signing" by other employees who have received basic sign language training, or by typing on a computer or typewriter.

    People with hearing impairments have different communication needs and use different modes of communication. Some use signing in American Sign Language, but others use sign language that has different manual codes. Some people rely on an oral interpreter who silently mouths words spoken by others to make them easier to lip read. Many hearing-impaired people use their voices to communicate, and some combine talking and signing. The individual should be consulted to determine the most effective means of communication.

    Communication between a person who is deaf and others through a supervisor and/or co-worker with basic sign language training may be sufficient in many job situations. However, where extensive discussions or complex subject matter is involved, a trained interpreter may be needed to provide effective communication. Experienced interpreters usually have received special training and may be certified by a professional interpreting organization or state or local Commission serving people who are deaf.

    10. Other Accommodations

    There are many other accommodations that may be effective for people with different disabilities in different jobs. The examples of accommodations in EEOC regulations and the examples in this Manual are not the only types of accommodations that may be required. Some other accommodations that may be appropriate include:

    Generally, it will be "unreasonable" for an employer to violate a seniority system in order to provide a reassignment. However, there may be "special circumstances" that undermine employee expectations about the uniform application of the seniority system, and thus it may be a "reasonable accommodation," absent undue hardship, to reassign an employee despite the existence of a seniority system. There is not an exhaustive list of what constitutes "special circumstances," but examples may include where a seniority system contains exceptions such that one more is unlikely to matter, or where an employer retains the right to alter unilaterally the seniority system and has done so fairly frequently.