Reasonable Accommodation

The information presented within this glossary entry is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

Reasonable accommodation is the process of making modifications to an environment, policies, or practices so that people with disabilities have equal access and full inclusion in a program, service, or activity. This includes providing access to the same services, activities, and opportunities as everyone else. This also includes provisions to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination or harassment.

It is important to note that the definition of ‘reasonable’ can account for various factors, such as the size of the employing company, the resources available, and the nature of the accommodation.

Examples of reasonable accommodation

Job restructuring

Job restructuring is a process by which employees with disabilities are permitted to modify their job duties or work environment to better accommodate their needs.

Examples might include:

  • Reallocating or redistributing job functions to minimize the impact of a disability
  • Changing when or how that function is performed

Part-time or modified work schedules

Reasonable accommodation includes offering flexible working hours or modified work schedules to allow employees with disabilities to work without sacrificing their health or wellbeing.

This might include:

  • Changes in start/finish times to allow for greater time taken for commuting to/from place of work
  • Changes in schedule to allow for visits to medical/therapeutic practitioners
  • Allowing for extra breaks as required

Acquiring or modifying equipment

Employees with disabilities may need to be provided with adaptive equipment or technology, or existing equipment may need to be modified to meet their needs. 

Examples include:

  • Acquiring telephone amplifiers that make conversation easier for people with hearing impairments
  • Acquiring software for enlarging or converting print documents to spoken text for individuals with vision or reading disabilities
  • Providing braille or raised print on equipment to assist people with vision impairments
  • Providing telephone headsets for use by people with cerebral palsy or other manual disabilities
  • Providing low-tech solutions such as modified stationery that makes it easier to write for those with disabilities such as cerebral palsy

There are also additional high-tech solutions such as electronic equipment that can be operated in alternative ways, for those who find hand movement challenging.

Examples include:

  • Eye tracking technology that allows individuals to control a computer or other device with their eye movements alone
  • Voice recognition software that allows individuals to control devices through voice commands
  • Assistive robotics that can help individuals perform tasks that may be challenging due to limited hand movement
  • Automation technologies that simplify the performance of repetitive tasks such as turning lights on or off

It may also be necessary to make other changes to the workplace to help employees with disabilities perform their work duties. 

Examples of such changes include:

  • Provision of ramps/wheelchair access, both external and internal
  • Removal of obstacles within a workplace, such as furniture or floor coverings that impede wheelchair usage

In terms of modifying both equipment and environment, it is important to consult with the relevant employee or applicant, as they will typically be well-informed on new and available equipment.

Reassignment to a vacant position

Employers should also consider transferring an employee with a disability to a vacant position that better suits their needs. This should be done in consultation with the employee to ensure that such a move is both desirable and appropriate to their abilities and skills.

The reassignment to a vacant position is typically considered only after other forms of reasonable accommodation have been exhausted or have been determined to be ineffective. 

It's important to note that the employer is not required to create a new position for the employee, nor to displace another employee to accommodate the individual with a disability. However, if there is a vacant position available for which the employee is qualified, the employer may be required to consider the employee for that position as a reasonable accommodation.

Providing qualified readers or interpreters

For people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, it might be necessary to provide interpreters or qualified readers. The provision of an interpreter ensures that individuals with hearing impairments are not excluded from participating in important conversations, meetings, or events due to a lack of accessibility. It also helps to promote inclusivity and equal opportunity by enabling individuals with disabilities to effectively communicate and access information.

A “qualified” reader means someone who is able to read effectively, accurately, and impartially, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

Providing reasonable accommodation in the eyes of the law

In the United States of America

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to prohibit discrimination, ensuring that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone. This legislation applies to an organization’s physical and digital environments. Reasonable accommodation appears in ADA Title I section 3(9), and includes a condensed version of the elements mentioned above.

There are other federal regulations that are also relevant in the provision of reasonable accommodation, which include:

  • The Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) (amended): The FHA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. Under the FHA, landlords and housing providers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities in order to afford them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975 with the purpose of providing a framework for the education of children with disabilities in the United States. It has been amended several times since, most recently in 2004. The law is designed to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and are provided with the support and services they need to succeed in school. IDEA requires that public schools provide special education and related services to children with disabilities, and that these services be tailored to meet each child's unique needs

In Canada

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a provincial law in Ontario, Canada, that sets out standards for accessibility in areas such as employment, customer service, information and communication, transportation, and the built environment.The AODA requires organizations and businesses in Ontario to take steps to remove barriers for people with disabilities and to provide reasonable accommodation where necessary.

Regarding reasonable accommodation, the AODA states that organizations and businesses must take steps to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. The AODA provides specific guidance on what constitutes undue hardship, and states that organizations and businesses must consider factors such as cost, outside sources of funding, and health and safety requirements when determining whether accommodating a particular need would cause undue hardship

The Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is a federal legislation in Canada that aims to create a more accessible and inclusive country for people with disabilities. The ACA requires that federal government departments and agencies, as well as certain regulated private sector organizations, provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Reasonable accommodations under the ACA are similar to those under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, referring to any adjustments to a job or work environment that allow individuals with disabilities to perform their roles.

The ACA also requires that a flexible and individualized approach be taken in determining what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. This means that the employer and the employee must engage in an interactive process to identify the individual's specific needs and explore potential accommodations.

In Europe

The European Accessibility Act (EAA)

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is ‌a law passed in the European Union (EU) that aims to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. The EAA requires that certain products and services be made accessible to people with disabilities.

The EAA does not specifically mention reasonable accommodation in the workplace, but it does require that employers take measures to make their workplace accessible to employees with disabilities. This includes making physical modifications to the workplace, as well as providing assistive technology and other types of accommodations that may be necessary to enable employees with disabilities to perform their jobs.

It is important to note that while the EAA does not specifically mention reasonable accommodations, the EU has other legislation that does address this issue. For example, the EU's Employment Equality Directive requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. This includes making changes to the work environment, work schedules, or job responsibilities, as well as providing assistive technology and other types of accommodations.

European Standard EN 301549

European Standard EN 301549 is a technical standard for accessible and usable information and communication technology (ICT) products and services in the European Union (EU). The standard was developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and provides guidelines for making ICT products and services accessible to people with disabilities.

The standard covers a wide range of ICT products and services, including computer software, websites, mobile devices, telecommunication services, and self-service terminals. It provides requirements for accessibility features, such as text size and contrast, audio descriptions, keyboard navigation, and other features that are necessary for people with disabilities to use these products and services effectively.

The standard also includes guidelines for making ICT products and services usable by people with disabilities, and is therefore highly relevant to the topic of reasonable accommodation.

EN 301549 provides requirements for design and development, testing, and documentation of ICT products and services to ensure that they are accessible and usable. Relevant organizations seeking to make reasonable accommodations for their employees should therefore consider EN 301549 as a useful indication that a product has been designed or developed with individuals with disabilities in mind.

The process of providing reasonable accommodation

Providing reasonable accommodation is a multi-faceted endeavor. It will typically include the following steps:

  • Considering the specific needs of individuals with disabilities
  • Developing a process for managing reasonable accommodation requests
  • Educating on the legal requirements of providing reasonable accommodations
  • Monitoring compliance with relevant legislation
  • Documenting decisions

Here’s a breakdown of each step:

Considering the specific needs of individuals with disabilities

When considering the specific needs of people with disabilities, it is important to understand that every person with a disability has their own unique needs and requirements, and that a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective.

The process will typically entail the following steps:

  • Encouraging employees with disabilities to provide input on their specific needs and requirements. Ask open-ended questions to understand the employee's perspective, and consider their input when making decisions about reasonable accommodations
  • Evaluating the specific needs of each employee with a disability on a case-by-case basis
  • Considering the employee's job duties, the nature and extent of their disability, and the specific accommodation that has been requested
  • Considering the undue hardship standard and the extent to which the accommodation would impose a significant difficulty or expense on the business
  • Considering alternative accommodations that would enable the employee to perform their job duties

Developing a process for managing reasonable accommodation requests

Developing a process for reasonable accommodation requests demonstrates an organization's commitment to accessibility and makes it easier to ensure best practices are followed.

A good process might include the following steps:

  • Designating a person or department responsible for receiving and processing requests for reasonable accommodations. This could be the human resources department, an equal opportunity coordinator, or another designated individual
  • Creating a simple and straightforward form that employees can use to request a reasonable accommodation. The form should include the employee's name, job title, and a description of the accommodation being requested
  • Reviewing a request promptly to determine whether it is a covered request under the ADA (or equivalent legislation) and whether the requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business
  • Consulting with the employee to understand their specific needs and the reasons why the requested accommodation is needed. This information will be useful in determining whether the requested accommodation is reasonable
  • Evaluating the request for reasonable accommodation, taking into account the employee's specific needs and the undue hardship standard. If the requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship, consider whether there is an alternative accommodation that would be reasonable
  • Providing a written response to the employee's request for reasonable accommodation, indicating whether the requested accommodation has been approved or denied, and the reasons for the decision
  • Implementing approved requests promptly to ensure that the employee has equal opportunities to perform their job duties

Educating on the legal requirements of providing reasonable accommodation

Managers and supervisors should be trained on their legal obligations to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.

Some steps to consider during this process include:

  • Explaining what a disability is, as defined by the ADA or other relevant legislation, which is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”
  • Explaining that reasonable accommodation is a way to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to perform their job duties and to compete for jobs without discrimination
  • Explaining that reasonable accommodation is a legal requirement, and that employers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodation unless it would impose an undue hardship on the business
  • Offering examples of reasonable accommodations that employers may be required to make, such as modifying the work schedule, providing assistive technology, or making physical modifications to the work environment
  • Explaining that the process for requesting accommodations is informal and that employees should not be afraid to ask
  • Explaining that an undue hardship is a significant difficulty or expense that would make providing the reasonable accommodation unreasonable
  • Discussing the factors that an employer must consider when determining whether an accommodation would impose an undue hardship
  • Explaining that information regarding the disability and the accommodation request should be kept confidential, except as necessary to provide the reasonable accommodation

Monitoring compliance with relevant legislation

Monitoring compliance with relevant legislation and ensuring that reasonable accommodations are being provided is an important part of creating an inclusive workplace.

A good process might include the following steps:

  • Regularly reviewing your policies and procedures related to reasonable accommodations to ensure that they are up-to-date and in compliance with legislation
  • Providing training for managers and employees on the importance of reasonable accommodations, legislation, and your company's policies and procedures
  • Conducting regular audits of your reasonable accommodation process, including the documentation of requests and decisions, to ensure that the process is being followed consistently and fairly
  • Encouraging employees with disabilities to provide feedback on the reasonable accommodation process and their experience and using this feedback to identify areas for improvement
  • Monitoring the outcomes of reasonable accommodations to determine their effectiveness and to identify any areas where improvements can be made

Documenting decisions

Documenting decisions related to reasonable accommodations is important for several reasons, including demonstrating compliance, creating a clear record of the accommodation process, and providing a basis for future decisions.

Here are some recommendations to consider when documenting decisions:

  • Keeping a detailed record of the accommodation process, including the date the request was received, the date a decision was made, and the reason for the decision
  • Ensuring that all information related to the employee's disability and the accommodation process is kept confidential
  • Storing all reasonable accommodation records in a secure location, separate from the employee's personnel file, to ensure confidentiality and protect the employee's privacy
  • Updating the reasonable accommodation records as needed to reflect any changes in the employee's job duties, the accommodation being provided, or the reason for the accommodation

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