Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to the same access to employment as people without disabilities. This benefits everyone. It gives people with disabilities the opportunity to pursue their career goals, and it gives employers access to a robust pool of workers who enable them to meet their business goals.
Yet, many employers hesitate to hire people with disabilities. They may have questions and concerns about providing accommodations or may feel unsure how to interact with a person with a disability. This hesitation or lack of awareness about successfully integrating people with disabilities into the workplace is a missed opportunity to tap into this talent pool.
Fortunately, there are resources available that can provide employers with knowledge and tools to successfully engage with jobseekers and employees who have disabilities.
Here are answers to common questions employers may have about the ADA and employing people with disabilities, provided by the ADA National Network. Also included are links to resources and tools for employers who wish to learn more.
Who is an “individual with a disability,” according to the ADA?
An individual who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” meets the ADA definition of disability that would qualify them for reasonable accommodations.
If a disability is not obvious to an employer, the employer can ask for medical documentation from a health care provider to confirm the need for an accommodation. Individuals who are only “regarded as” having a disability, but do not have a disability, are not qualified to receive reasonable accommodations.
Learn More: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, the job, the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat to the health or safety of the individual or of others.
Watch: What is a "Reasonable Accommodation?"
Dig further: What are the limitations on the obligation to make a reasonable accommodation?
Are accommodations expensive?
Fifty-nine percent of accommodations cost nothing, while the rest of accommodations have a typical cost of only $500, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Job Accommodation Network (JAN).
Employers also reported the cost of the accommodation paid for itself many times over via reduced insurance and training costs, as well as increased productivity.
For customized assistance on individual accommodation situations: Contact JAN at 1-800-526-7234 (Voice), 1-877-781-9403 (TTY) or online at AskJAN.org.
What types of accommodations are generally considered reasonable?
To determine what is reasonable, an employer must look at the request made by the applicant or employee with a disability. Whether or not an accommodation is reasonable will vary according to the position the employee holds, the way their disability affects their ability to do their job, and the environment that they work in. Here are some accommodations that are generally considered reasonable:
- Change job tasks
- Provide reserved parking
- Improve accessibility in a work area
- Change the presentation of tests and training materials
- Provide or adjust a product, equipment, or software
- Allow a flexible work schedule
- Provide an aid or a service to increase access
- Reassign to a vacant position
Learn how accommodations ensure productivity of all employees: Reasonable Accommodations
Are all employers required to provide reasonable accommodations?
Under the ADA, employers who have 15 or more employees are usually required to provide reasonable accommodations. Some state and local laws may require that employers with fewer employees provide reasonable accommodations.
Learn which Department of Labor laws apply to you: FirstStep Employment Law Advisor
Contact: State Labor and Employment Agencies
Do employers have to hire or retain a person with a disability, even if they are not qualified?
The ADA requires a person with a disability to be qualified for a position to be considered for employment. To be qualified, an applicant or employee must be able to perform essential job functions.
Essential functions are job duties that are fundamental to the position; they are the reason the job exists. Some of the factors for determining essential functions of a job include:
- Whether the position exists specifically to perform these essential functions.
- The number of other employees who are available to perform the same job duties.
- The expertise or skills required to perform the essential functions.
Learn more: Does the ADA require that an applicant or employee with a disability be qualified for the position?
Can an employer consider health and safety when deciding whether to hire an applicant or retain an employee with a disability?
The ADA permits employers to exclude individuals who pose a direct threat (a significant risk of substantial harm) to the health or safety of the individual or of others, if that risk cannot be eliminated or reduced below the level of a "direct threat" by reasonable accommodation.
However, an employer may not simply assume that a threat exists; the employer must establish through objective, medically supportable methods that an individual poses a significant risk of substantial harm. The determination must be based on an individualized assessment of the individual's current ability, the most current medical knowledge, and/or on the best available objective evidence.
Get more information: Does the ADA override federal and state health and safety laws?
What is the etiquette around recruiting, hiring, and integrating a person into the workplace?
The Job Accommodation Network provides a comprehensive guide on disability etiquette for recruitment, interviewing, and use in the workplace. There are specific sections for mobility, sensory, cognitive, and psychiatric disabilities.
Explore etiquette strategies: Disability Etiquette
Resources to Learn More About the ADA and Workplace Accommodations
Use these resources to learn more about the ADA, workplace accommodations, and how hiring people with disabilities helps employers reach their business goals.