​Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on May 10, 2022 # Employment

WorkOne of the most common subjects that I am asked about by people with disabilities who are working or who want to find work is about reasonable accommodations. Often when this subject comes up, people don’t use the words “reasonable accommodations” instead, they say things like “What if I need to adjust my schedule because I need to go to physical therapy on Thursday afternoons? Can they fire me for that?” or “I can do everything in the job description except that it says that applicants are required to stand and I can’t stand, but I can do it all while sitting. Am I qualified?” or “I can’t reach the coffee pot at my office. It’s super frustrating because I love coffee and it’s free for all employees, but I just can’t reach it. Is there anything I can do or should I not make a fuss about it?”

All of these situations scream “reasonable accommodation” to me, but often disabled people do not realize that they have rights in their specific workplace situations. So how do you know if your situation might be the right situation to ask for a reasonable accommodation?

Here’s a few things to look for:

  1. Does the employer have 15 or more employees? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers who have 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations. Additionally, some state and local laws may require employers with fewer than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations.
  2. Are you a person with a disability? The ADA protects people with disabilities. Generally, you know if you’re a person with a disability. However, the ADA has a definition for disability. A person has a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The ADA also protects people with a record of such an impairment and people who are “regarded as” having an impairment, but people who are regarded as having a disability are not eligible for reasonable accommodations.
  3. Do you need a change or adjustment to allow you to participate in a job interview, to do your job, or to enjoy a work benefit? A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that allows a qualified person with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy the same employment benefits as nondisabled employees. Examples include, but are definitely not limited to:
    • Modifying a work schedule
    • Providing technology to allow a person to perform their work, such as a headset for a person who is unable to hold a telephone
    • Ensuring holiday parties are held in wheelchair accessible locations
  4. Will this cause an undue hardship? The ADA does not require employers to provide accommodations if doing so would cause an undue hardship. “Undue hardship” means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. When considering if an accommodation is an undue hardship, factors considered include cost, the employer's size and financial resources, and the nature of its operation. If it’s determined that providing a specific accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employer must work with the employee to find other accommodations that would work and not cause an undue hardship. Additionally, if funding is the issue, employers should look at alternative funding options including vocational rehabilitation services and tax credits.

Still, have questions about reasonable accommodations? No problem! This is a big area, and there’s always more to learn. A great resource to help you is the Job Accommodation Network. This website is full of information, including sample reasonable accommodation requests and ideas for different accommodations that might work for you!

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.