Our Readers Want to Know: What Is “Reasonable Accommodation”?

Editor’s note: One of the many benefits associated with an online information center and website, such as VisionAware.org, is the ability to track readers’ search terms [i.e., information readers are seeking as they search the Internet]. The following questions about employment with a disability – specifically blindness or low vision – consistently rank within VisionAware’s top twenty information searches:

  • What does “reasonable accommodation” mean?
  • How can I talk to my employer about reasonable accommodation?

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The NDEAM logo

These questions are especially relevant during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, sponsored by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a national campaign to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

More about Reasonable Accommodation

Here is one definition from What Does Reasonable Accommodation Mean? at VisionAware.org:

Reasonable accommodation refers to the provision of conditions, equipment, and environment that enable an individual to effectively perform his or her job. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes reasonable accommodation as follows:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause undue hardship.

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • Changes to a job application process;
  • Changes to the work environment, or to the way a job is usually done;
  • Changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as access to training).

Some Helpful Background On the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA logo

From The Americans with Disabilities Act at VisionAware.org:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA affects employment, housing, health care, education, public transportation, and parks and recreation. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush.

Title 1 of ADA makes it unlawful for any employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee because of a disability in any aspect of employment. ADA Title I covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. The EEOC website provides a series of Questions and Answers about Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act that address the following issues:

  • when a vision impairment is a disability under the ADA;
  • under what circumstances an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment;
  • what types of “reasonable accommodations” employees with visual disabilities may require;
  • how an employer can prevent harassment of employees with visual disabilities or any other disability.

The ADA states that employers cannot prevent an individual from maintaining his or her job if the individual can perform the “essential functions” of that job. The employer is required to provide “reasonable accommodations” that allow the employee to perform his or her job effectively.

In some instances, the employer could state that the provision of work place adjustments would be too costly, or provide “undue hardship” for his/her business or organization; in most situations, however, the employee can resolve these issues by learning about appropriate resources that will provide information and, in some cases, financial assistance.

Specific Provisions of the ADA

Additional provisions of the ADA include the following:

  • The ADA limits the medical information that an employer may seek from a job applicant. For example, an employer may not require a job applicant to submit to a medical examination or ask about an applicant’s disability before making a job offer. But the employer may ask all applicants if they will need a reasonable accommodation.
  • An employer may not withdraw an offer from a person whose vision impairment is a disability, however, unless the employer can demonstrate that the applicant is unable to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without a reasonable accommodation, or that the applicant will pose a direct threat to safety.
  • An employer is only required to accommodate a “known” disability of a qualified applicant or employee. Accommodations are made on an individual basis, because the nature and extent of a disabling condition and the requirements of a job will vary in each case.

Useful Resources for Information about Reasonable Accommodation

Previously: Our Readers Want to Know: When Should I Have Cataract Surgery?