Finding the best job match is key to meaningful employment. But even good matches often include negotiated adjustments and accommodations – success involves fitting the job to the person as much as fitting the person to the job.

An accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done). The process applies to all facets of employment, from hiring to orientation and training to workplace events and activities. The purpose is to help a qualified individual with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Accommodations can include modification of work schedule or policy; physical changes to workspace; equipment and devices; job restructuring; adjustment of supervisory methods; and job coaching.

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The employment aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, Title I) state that employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability, as long as the accommodation does not pose an “undue hardship” to the employer. Factors considered under hardship include the:

  • nature and cost of the accommodation.
  • resources and size of the business.
  • type of business – composition, functions, workforce structure.
  • impact the accommodation would have on the facility and business as a whole.

Reasonable accommodation does not require lowering performance standards or removing essential functions of the individual’s job.
An employee can request an accommodation at any time. But what’s the best way to ask for one?

First of all, the employee should assess the resources and supports already available, both on and off the job. If additional arrangements are needed, it is the worker’s responsibility to approach the employer. Therefore, requesting accommodations requires some level of disclosure concerning disability. The decision when and how to request an accommodation involves consideration of many variables:

  • What are the benefits and risks? What’s the potential effect on workplace perceptions?
  • What is the impact of requesting accommodation before the hire vs. immediately after vs. waiting a month?
  • How will the accommodation request influence coworker involvement? Who needs to know?
  •  Are there alternatives to requesting the accommodation that will be more inclusive and less stigmatizing?

Sometimes, a less formal inquiry may serve the purpose. According to the law, you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. Individuals can use “plain English” to make their request and do not need to get into specific disability-related details. Keep it simple, yet clear, and functional. Here are a few examples:

  • I find I work best when I get regular feedback. Would it be OK with you if we checked in every day, just briefly, to make sure I’m on track with my tasks?
  • It helps my productivity a lot if I can take a 5-minute break every hour. Could we try that out for a week and see if you’re satisfied with my performance?
  • I have difficulty sitting for long periods. I use a kneeling chair at home that I got for $60. It’s helped others with back troubles, too. Would the company be willing to purchase a chair like that for me?

Accommodations should be developed in a spirit of collaboration with employers. Think of it as a joint problem-solving exercise with many possible solutions to any one issue. The ADA refers to this as the “interactive process.” Be proactive. Don’t expect employers to know all the answers. Explain needs and solutions clearly, respond to concerns, answer questions, and provide information.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the employment provisions of the ADA. If an accommodation request is denied, try to find out why. You may need to provide additional information to the employer, or you may want to suggest other alternatives. The worker can appeal the decision by going up the chain of command, filing a grievance with their union, or filing a complaint with the EEOC or their state’s enforcing agency.

Strategies for requesting and negotiating accommodations are driven by each unique situation. There are options available to accommodate a wide variety of needs, especially with the advance of universal technology, such as smartphones, tablets, and apps. And many accommodation supports can be found at your local hardware or department store at a low cost. Knowledge, collaborative communication, and creative problem solving are all useful approaches. Employers typically want to be helpful – they may need to be empowered and informed to do so.

For further reading:

JAN Employee’s Practical Guide to Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA

EEOC Procedures for Providing Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals With Disabilities

About the Author

Melanie Jordan, Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) is a training and technical assistance associate at the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at UMass Boston. She has over 30 years of diverse direct human service experience, working with individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Her work primarily focuses on product development and publication writing, staff training and consultation, and national conference presentations, all with a focus on individualized community employment for people with disabilities.

For more information about types and use of accommodations, visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website
For more information about reasonable accommodations & undue hardship, see: Reasonable Accommodations, Undue Hardship & ADA

For more information about individual rights and responsibilities under Title I of the ADA, see:

For helpful tools to use in planning disclosure strategies, see:

For more information about filing an EEOC complaint, visit Finding a Charge of Discrimination
To locate your local EEOC field office, go to EEOC Field Offices
Your state’s Protection & Advocacy Organization could also provide guidance.

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