Living with a disability involves surmounting numerous hurdles. Things that other people take for granted – like vision, mobility and hearing – may be difficult or even impossible for you. Adaptive technologies might help, but they come with challenges of their own. Functioning on a day-to-day basis may require creative solutions for doing things differently.

When a disability impacts your job, it’s important to know your rights. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) not only prohibits discrimination against qualified employees or applicants on account of their disability; it also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

But what is a “reasonable accommodation?” It breaks down into two parts:

Defining “accommodation”

An accommodation is a change with regard to some aspect of employment that gives a person with disabilities the same opportunity to perform or apply for the job. Essentially, it levels the playing field.

Depending on the nature of the position and the employee’s disability, an accommodation might involve:

  • Providing certain work-related equipment
  • Making alterations to the physical workspace
  • Modifying work schedules
  • Offering telecommuting
  • Restructuring nonessential job duties
  • Reassigning the employee to an open light-duty job
  • Establishing designated parking or accessible transportation

Defining “reasonable”

What’s “reasonable” isn’t always clear-cut. A lot depends on the context.

In general, however, employers aren’t required to:

  • Change or eliminate essential job functions
  • Create a new job
  • Reduce quality standards or output expectations
  • Promote the employee apart from a merit system
  • Provide non-work-related adaptive equipment or technologies

Another layer of complexity

Even if an accommodation is reasonable, employers aren’t required to provide it if doing so would cause them undue hardship. That determination must be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as the financial impact on the business, the nature of the operation, the existing facilities and numerous other considerations.

Likewise, employers can deny a reasonable accommodation if the employee’s request would pose a “direct threat” to the safety of other employees or customers. Again, that determination requires a case-specific evaluation of all the factors at play.

The bottom line

Workers with disabilities deserve equal opportunities in the workplace. If you feel that your rights have been violated, reach out to a qualified employment attorney to discuss your concerns. You may have a right to compensation, back pay, reinstatement or other types of relief.