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Chapter III: The Reasonable Accommodation Obligation

3.4 Some Basic Principles of Reasonable Accommodation

A modification or adjustment must be "reasonable" and effective. It must provide an opportunity for a person with a disability to achieve the same level of performance or to enjoy benefits or privileges equal to those of an average similarly-situated nondisabled person. However, the accommodation does not have to ensure equal results or provide exactly the same benefits or privileges.

For example: An employer provides an employee lunchroom with food and beverages on the second floor of a building that has no elevator. If it would be an undue hardship to install an elevator for an employee who uses a wheelchair, the employer must provide a comparable facility on the first floor. The facility does not have to be exactly the same as that on the second floor, but must provide food, beverages and space for the disabled employee to eat with co-workers. It would not be a reasonable accommodation merely to provide a place for this employee to eat by himself. Nor would it be a reasonable accommodation to provide a separate facility for the employee if access to the common facility could be provided without undue hardship. For example, if the lunchroom was only several steps up, a portable ramp could provide access.

The reasonable accommodation obligation applies only to accommodations that reduce barriers to employment related to a person's disability; it does not apply to accommodations that a disabled person may request for some other reason.

For example: Reassignment is one type of accommodation that may be required under the ADA. If an employee whose job requires driving loses her sight, reassignment to a vacant position that does not require driving would be a reasonable accommodation, if the employee is qualified for that position with or without an accommodation. However, if a blind computer operator working at an employer's Michigan facility requested reassignment to a facility in Florida because he prefers to work in a warmer climate, this would not be a reasonable accommodation required by the ADA. In the second case, the accommodation is not needed because of the employee's disability.

A reasonable accommodation need not be the best accommodation available, as long as it is effective for the purpose; that is, it gives the person with a disability an equal opportunity to be considered for a job, to perform the essential functions of the job, or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of the job.

For example: An employer would not have to hire a full- time reader for a blind employee if a co-worker is available as a part-time reader when needed, and this will enable the blind employee to perform his job duties effectively.

An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that is primarily for personal use. Reasonable accommodation applies to modifications that specifically assist an individual in performing the duties of a particular job. Equipment or devices that assist a person in daily activities on and off the job are considered personal items that an employer is not required to provide. However, in some cases, equipment that otherwise would be considered "personal" may be required as an accommodation if it is specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs.

For example: An employer generally would not be required to provide personal items such as eyeglasses, a wheelchair, or an artificial limb. However, the employer might be required to provide a person who has a visual impairment with glasses that are specifically needed to use a computer monitor. Or, if deep pile carpeting in a work area makes it impossible for an individual to use a manual wheelchair, the employer may need to replace the carpet, place a usable surface over the carpet in areas used by the employee, or provide a motorized wheelchair.

The ADA's requirements for certain types of adjustments and modifications to meet the reasonable accommodation obligation do not prevent an employer from providing accommodations beyond those required by the ADA.

For example: "Supported employment" programs may provide free job coaches and other assistance to enable certain individuals with severe disabilities to learn and/or to progress in jobs. These programs typically require a range of modifications and adjustments to customary employment practices. Some of these modifications may also be required by the ADA as reasonable accommodations. However, supported employment programs may require modifications beyond those required under the ADA, such as restructuring of essential job functions. Many employers have found that supported employment programs are an excellent source of reliable productive new employees. Participation in these programs advances the underlying goal of the ADA - - to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Making modifications for supported employment beyond those required by the ADA in no way violates the ADA.