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Chapter III: The Reasonable Accommodation Obligation

3.6 Who Is Entitled to a Reasonable Accommodation?

As detailed in Chapter II , an individual is entitled to a reasonable accommodation if s/he:

meets the ADA definition of "a qualified individual with a disability" (meets all prerequisites for performing the essential functions of a job [being considered for a job or enjoying equal benefits and privileges of a job] except any that cannot be met because of a disability).

If there is a reasonable accommodation that will enable this person to perform the essential functions of a job (be considered, or receive equal benefits, etc.), the employer is obligated to provide it, unless it would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.

When is an Employer Obligated to Make a Reasonable Accommodation?

An employer is obligated to make an accommodation only to the known limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability. In general, it is the responsibility of the applicant or employee with a disability to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed to participate in the application process, to perform essential job functions or to receive equal benefits and privileges of employment. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if unaware of the need.

However, the employer is responsible for notifying job applicants and employees of its obligation to provide accommodations for otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities.

The ADA requires an employer to post notices containing the provisions of the ADA, including the reasonable accommodation obligation, in conspicuous places on its premises. Such notices should be posted in employment offices and other places where applicants and employees can readily see them. EEOC provides posters for this purpose. (See Chapter I for additional information on the required notice.)

Information about the reasonable accommodation obligation also can be included in job application forms, job vacancy notices, and in personnel manuals, and may be communicated orally.

An applicant or employee does not have to specifically request a "reasonable accommodation," but must only let the employer know that some adjustment or change is needed to do a job because of the limitations caused by a disability.

If a job applicant or employee has a "hidden" disability - - one that is not obvious - - it is up to that individual to make the need for an accommodation known. If an applicant has a known disability, such as a visible disability, that appears to limit, interfere with, or prevent the individual from performing job-related functions, the employer may ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how s/he would perform the function with or without a reasonable accommodation. Chapter V provides guidance on how to make such an inquiry without violating the ADA prohibition against pre-employment inquiries in the application and interview process.

If an employee with a known disability is not performing well or is having difficulty in performing a job, the employer should assess whether this is due to a disability. The employer may inquire at any time whether the employee needs an accommodation.

Documentation of Need for Accommodation

If an applicant or employee requests an accommodation and the need for the accommodation is not obvious, or if the employer does not believe that the accommodation is needed, the employer may request documentation of the individual's functional limitations to support the request.

For example: An employer may ask for written documentation from a doctor, psychologist, rehabilitation counselor, occupational or physical therapist, independent living specialist, or other professional with knowledge of the person's functional limitations. Such documentation might indicate, for example, that this person cannot lift more than 15 pounds without assistance.