The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies that employers or other "covered entities" such as postsecondary education institutions must provide accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless the entities can "demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship." The resulting "reasonable" accommodations are changes made to allow an individual with a disability to use equipment and services and to participate fully in employment, education, or community.
Unlike the adjustments and modifications to which K-12 students are entitled to Individual Educational Plans (IEPs), accommodations in employment and higher education must be requested—and may not be provided. Reasonable accommodations are intended to provide equal access to employment, services and activities (Association on Higher Education and Disability, n.d.)—not to ensure success.
In employment, accommodations include access to employee rights and privileges in addition to fulfilling the essential functions of a job (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2008). In the ADA, the term "reasonable accommodation" may include the following:
- Make existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
- Provide job restructuring.
- Provide part-time or modified work schedules.
- Reassign employee to a vacant position.
- Acquire or modify equipment or devices.
- Provide appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations.
- Provide appropriate adjustment or modifications of training materials or policies.
- Provide qualified readers or interpreters.
- Provide other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the U.S. Department of Justice describes the limitations and options for providing accommodations:
The individual with a disability requiring the accommodation must be otherwise qualified and the disability must be known to the employer. In addition, an employer is not required to make an accommodation if it would impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. "Undue hardship" is defined as an "action requiring significant difficulty or expense" when considered in light of a number of factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature and structure of the employer's operation. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis. Where the facility making the accommodation is part of a larger entity, the structure and overall resources of the larger organization would be considered, as well as the financial and administrative relationship of the facility to the larger organization. In general, a larger employer with greater resources would be expected to make accommodations requiring greater effort or expense than would be required of a smaller employer with fewer resources.
If a particular accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employer must try to identify another accommodation that will not pose such a hardship. Also, if the cost of an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the individual with a disability should be given the option of paying that portion of the cost which would constitute an undue hardship or providing the accommodation" (USEEOC, 2008, http://www.ada.gov/qandaeng.htm).
A reasonable accommodation is considered by the ADA to be effective if it provides "an opportunity for a person with a disability to achieve the same level of performance and to enjoy benefits equal to those of an average, similarly situated person without a disability. However, the accommodation does not have to ensure equal results or provide exactly the same benefits" (USEEOC, 2008, http://www.ada.gov/qandaeng.htm). Job applicants or employees may contest accommodation decisions through a company's grievance process or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Students with disabilities in colleges, universities, career and technical education programs, apprenticeship classes and other postsecondary education or training programs must advocate for themselves. Advocating includes requesting accommodations—and may include educating instructors and others who may not be familiar with accommodations and the applicable laws. Students with disabilities in postsecondary education are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and may be protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if the school or program receives federal funding.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (n.d., http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-disability.html) "colleges and universities are required to provide students with appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in the school’s program. Examples of auxiliary aids that may be required are taped texts, note-takers, interpreters, readers and specialized computer equipment. Colleges and universities are not required to supply students with attendants, individually prescribed devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature."
Each postsecondary institution has its own guidelines for accommodations. For example, some colleges may allow service animals in dorms; others may not. Most institutions have a support services office or counselor who is authorized to make decisions on accommodations. Accommodations and services that are specified by a doctor, IEP, or Summary of Performance will be reviewed but may be denied, or other accommodations may be proposed in their place. Students may contest an accommodation decision through the institution’s appeals process or the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (AHEAD, n.d., http://www.ahead.org/students-parents/students).
ADA Home Page
This site provides resources, legal information, standards and toolkits for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
AHEAD is a professional membership organization for the development of policy and the provision of quality services to meet the needs of persons with disabilities involved in all areas of higher education. Its Website contains a code of ethics, professional and program standards, information for students and parents, resources and publications.
HEATH Resource Center
This online clearinghouse for postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities contains publications, resources and modules on community college, career and technical education, applying to collect, college living, legal issues, accommodations, self-advocacy, working with faculty members and more.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
JAN provides resources for workplace productivity enhancements and reasonable accommodation solutions, including a searchable accommodations database and individual technical assistance services.
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
ODEP provides policy guidance and resources, including evidence-based practices, to improve the employment of youth and adults with disabilities.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 12112, section 102, (a)5(A) (1990).
Association on Higher Education and Disability. (n.d.). Students’ FAQ. Huntersville, NC: Author.
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Questions and answers on disability discrimination under section 504 and Title II. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2008, November 14). Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions and answers. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/qandaeng.htm