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Updated Feb 12, 2024

Business Accommodations for Employees With Hearing Loss, Vision Impairments or Other Disabilities

Whether or not you're legally required to accommodate disabilities in the workplace, it makes good business sense to do so. Follow this six-step accommodation process.

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Written By: Chad BrooksManaging Editor & Expert on Business Ownership
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Table of Contents

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If your business has 15 or more employees, it’s required to provide reasonable accommodations per the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you have fewer employees, accommodations might still be mandated, depending on state or local laws.

Regardless of the legalities, it’s wise for any business to offer accommodations that don’t impose an undue hardship. The changes usually are simple and free. At the same time, they widen applicant pools, enhance morale and foster an atmosphere of inclusion.

Table of Contents

Examples of Common Accommodations

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers the A to Z of accommodations for virtually any condition or disability. Head over there for ideas if you feel confused or stuck. JAN includes disabilities such as arthritis, blindness, color vision deficiency, deafness, low vision, multiple sclerosis, obesity, stuttering and vertigo (OK, there’s technically no Z). Anyway, let’s start with a look at hearing-related accommodations. 1,2

Hearing: Deaf or Hard of Hearing

General accommodations

  • Service animal: If the business typically has a “no animals allowed” policy
  • Disability awareness or etiquette training: For other employees to improve their communication, tolerance and confidence
  • Job restructuring: To reallocate minor aspects of the job and/or change the timing and method of essential job functions
  • Modified training material or extra time during training: To make training more accessible; for instance, adding captions or subtitles to a training video

Communications-related accommodations 

  • Notetaker: To take notes during lectures, workshops, meetings, etc.
  • Interpreter: To facilitate communication through sign language, voicing, cued speech, tactile or something else
  • CART services (including remote): To provide real-time text of a lecture, workshop, meeting, etc.
  • Live AI captioning or live transcription on smartphones, tablets and computers: This can be done through programs such as Ava and smartphone dictation/voice recognition programs. (It’s also possible to pair apps or utilities with wireless microphone transmitters such as the Roger pen for cochlear implants.)
  • Video relay services: To help employees who use ASL make and receive necessary business calls
  • Notepad or whiteboard: To serve various communications purposes
  • Clear masks: To help with lip reading and comprehension, often a COVID-19 accommodation but has use in other instances
  • Portable text communication device: To facilitate one-on-one communication through assistive technology
  • Telephone amplification, telephones with captioning and hearing aid-compatible headsets: To help employees make and receive necessary business calls
  • Assistive listening devices: For sound clarity, amplification and reduction of background noise
  • Two-way radio with texting: To enable communication in the field
  • Voicemail transcription and voice to text
  • Relay Conference Captioning (RCC): For federal employees only, free captioning for conference or multiparty calls

For environmental awareness or tracking awareness

  • Alerting devices: To alert employees to environmental sounds, such as a ringing doorbell or fire alarm
  • Strobe lights: To let employees know about vehicles approaching or backing up, particularly in factory or industrial workplaces
  • Fixed travel routes for vehicles and heavy equipment: Especially useful in factory or industrial workplaces
  • Vehicle rear vision: To help workers operating forklifts and other equipment see behind them
  • Vibrating watches or alarms: To keep employees on top of appointments and other schedule- and time-related issues
  • Amplified stethoscopes

Speech-related accommodations

Since some people who are deaf or have hearing loss prefer not to speak (or don’t produce intelligible speech), they may ask for speech-language accommodations such as augmentative or alternative communication devices. Some accommodations mentioned above, such as interpreters, notepads, video relay services, whiteboards and portable communication devices, also help in this respect.3

What about conditions such as noise sensitivity or ringing in the ears?

JAN has these (and more!) covered. Possible accommodations for noise sensitivity include:2

  • Soundproof panels
  • Noise-canceling earbuds
  • Captions
  • Modified workspaces that reduce or eliminate auditory clutter
  • Alerting devices

Many of the suggestions are the same for ringing in the ears. You could also see if tinnitus maskers and cubicle shields might be effective.

Vision: Blindness

General accommodations 4

  • Braille labelers
  • Tactile dots or markers
  • Talking equipment: Barcode scanners and readers, cash registers, color detectors, credit card terminals, money identifiers
  • Attendant or aide: To help with navigation; for instance, when traveling during work conferences
  • Qualified readers: To read material out loud
  • Service animal
  • Flexible schedule, job restructuring, telework, working remotely, modified workspace or workspace redesign [Read related article: Remote Work Best Practices (Plus Sample Policy)]
  • Detectable warning surfaces (small, raised circles on pedestrian ramps and other surfaces): To let employees know about something coming up; for instance, the top of a staircase, an elevator or a doorway
  • Paint or high-visibility floor tape
  • Stair tread or texture tape (nonslip surfaces): So employees stay balanced when walking on stairs or surfaces
  • Optical character recognition scan systems: To convert text and receive speech output or save to a computer
  • Telephone light sensor: To tell if a telephone light is blinking or steadily on

Computer-related accommodations

  • Screen-reading software: To read aloud text appearing on a computer screen
  • Computer Braille display: To make content on computer screens readable in Braille
  • Computer phone software: To enable calls using computer hardware
  • Computer headsets
  • Keyboard tops and labels: To put tactile Braille markers over the keys
  • Accessible typing program
TipBottom line
There are several types of phone systems available, each with its own features and advantages. Be sure to consider all the needs of your employees when choosing the best system for your business.

Other vision disabilities include colorblindness and low vision. The ideas listed above and below can also help with conditions such as myopia, astigmatism, glaucoma, cataracts and a lack of depth perception.

Colorblind/color vision issues 5

  • Job restructuring or policy modification
  • High-visibility floor tape or paint
  • Color identification smartphone apps and devices
  • Color filters, special lenses or talking color detectors
  • Color contrast overlays

Low vision 6

  • Accessible smartphones: To add or use apps for screen reading, message reading, voice output and others
  • Large-button telephones and large visual displays
  • Computer screen magnification, whether external, portable, head-mounted or software
  • High-visibility floor tape or paint
  • Lighted reading glasses: To magnify or illuminate
  • Talking equipment, such as blood pressure monitors, blood glucose monitors, tape measures, copiers, coin sorters, calculators and scales

Other Disabilities

JAN offers possible accommodations for many disabilities or conditions. This guide does not cover them all, but let’s touch on a few extremely common ones, such as cancer. 7


  • Flexible schedule, job restructuring, telework, periodic rest breaks and extra time
  • Anti-fatigue matting
  • Stand-lean stools
  • Walkers and wheelchairs
  • Written instructions, memory software, checklists, noise-canceling headsets and other devices to assist executive functioning
  • Odor-control products to help with nausea triggers
  • Carpet alternatives and alternative cleaning supplies
  • Service animal or support person
  • Hand protection gloves and cold-resistant or heated gloves
  • Workstation space heaters
  • Heated clothes
  • Counseling or therapy

Back Impairment 8

  • Telework, working remotely and job restructuring
  • Modified break schedule and periodic rest breaks
  • Carts, lightweight ladders, scooter or wheelchair accessories, and lifting aids
  • Transfer sheets, patient lifts and adjustable exam tables
  • Rescue chairs, bariatric evacuation sleds and other evacuation devices
  • Rolling safety ladders, coach steps and stair assists
  • Elevated wheelchairs, anti-fatigue matting and stools for cutting hair
  • Adjustable workstations, pedal workstations and alternative mice
  • Vacuum pickup tools and carts
  • Ergonomic chairs and equipment
  • Van conversions
Did You Know?Did you know
Hybrid and remote work options aren't advantageous only to people with disabilities. Remote work can benefit your entire workforce by increasing employee engagement and productivity.

Pregnancy 9

  • Schedule flexibility and modified schedules
  • Ergonomic or adjustable equipment, such as adjustable massage tables
  • Long-handled or convex mirrors
  • Patient lifts
  • All-terrain scooters, wheelchairs and accessories
  • Carts, vacuum lifts, aerial lifts and other types of lifts
  • Odor-control products and devices
  • Grab bars near toilets

The 6 Steps of the Accommodations Process

Employers must consider accommodations on a case-by-case basis. It’s essential to avoid a “one size fits all” mindset, especially since each person is unique. It makes sense for three employees with the same disability to request three different accommodations and for all requests to be reasonable.

Of course, a business can make accommodations only if it is aware of a disability. It’s up to applicants and employees to disclose to managers, human resources personnel or other designated people. Here’s an overview of the steps involved in the accommodations process.10

  1. Applicant or employee discloses disability and explains how it affects their ability to perform an application or job function.
  2. An interactive dialogue ensues. For instance: The employer asks a few questions to better understand the impact on the job (can also request documentation of disability) and inquires if the employee has ideas for accommodations. Employer also explains how the accommodations process works at the company, who else might be privy to the information about the disability and accommodations, and the next steps for the employee to expect.
  3. The employer maintains the employee’s confidentiality throughout the process. The information is solely need-to-know and should not go into a personnel file. Co-workers who might eventually need to adjust their work due to accommodations won’t be told why but obviously will be told about the changes.
  4. The employee plays a huge role in determining effective accommodations, although the employer will have the final word. Employees know their challenges better than anyone and are familiar with what works and doesn’t work for them. Employers who deny requests for specific accommodations should explain why to employees.
  5. The employer and employee implement the accommodation(s) according to the plan they made earlier and after any training the employee may have received.
  6. Both parties track the ongoing effectiveness of the accommodation and document actions taken, adjustments, dates and the like.
TipBottom line
When an employer handles a disability case, it's important that they maintain confidentiality to avoid compliance challenges such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations.

3 Critical Areas Relating to Accommodations

Now, let’s review three critical areas: the essential functions of a job, qualifying disabilities and reasonable accommodations.

  • Essential job functions:Think of these tasks or responsibilities as being the very reasons a job exists. To determine whether a function is essential, you can consider the type of skills or expertise necessary, how many other people at the workplace can do the job, and whether the position is there in the first place for these functions.
  • Qualifying disabilities: The ADA describes qualifying disabilities as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an ‘actual disability).”11  Disabilities can be obvious, hidden or somewhere in between. Employers can request medical documentation of need before providing accommodations. The ADA does not have a list of actual disabilities that qualify workers for accommodations.
  • Reasonable accommodations:These help employees perform essential functions and benefit from their job like other employees do. Accommodations kick in even for applicants since they are entitled to equal opportunities. Sometimes, accommodations such as ergonomic workstations and flexible schedules end up benefiting all employees. Often, accommodations require only minor changes for free or at a low cost.
    • General examples of accommodations include reserving parking spots, adjusting training materials, allowing service dogs, changing work schedules so employees can work from home or attend medical appointments, rearranging the layout of an office, getting screen reader software, and contracting with sighted guides so employees can travel to conferences.
    • “Reasonable” depends on what exactly the applicant or employee requests, the work environment, and the interaction between the job and the person’s disability.
    • Reasonable accommodations are weighed on a case-by-case basis. Businesses should avoid a “one size fits all” mindset.
    • A business might not legally be required to accommodate requests if it has fewer than 15 employees. Check local and state laws for further guidance. Note: Both full-time and part-time employees are counted among the 15 employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Generally, no. That can be frustrating for employees seeking assistance with the cost of hearing aids. Hearing aids are among "personal use" devices that workers use both at work and off the job. Other personal-use examples include prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs.12
The ADA and most federal laws do not cover freelancers and independent contractors. That said, most accommodations truly are simple and free/low-cost to implement. There's nothing saying businesses can't try to accommodate freelancers or independent contractors. As JAN and the Department of Labor explains, 58 percent of accommodations are absolutely free.13 Now, when it comes to temp workers, either the employer or the staffing firm (usually both) do need to follow the ADA and provide reasonable accommodations. To avoid confusion and delay, the contracts between the employer and staffing firm should address which organization provides accommodations and the procedures to follow.14
It's up to applicants to request any accommodations they need. To expedite the process on both sides, employers should add a statement like "If you require reasonable accommodation in completing an application, interviewing, completing any pre-employment testing or otherwise participating in the employee selection process, please direct your inquiries to …" on job ads, job posts, and applications.15 For additional efficiency, many employers designate a point person for accommodation requests. To make contact easier on applicants, it's best to include more than one method of getting in touch; for example, both email and phone. Examples of possible accommodations during applications or hiring include:
  • Written tests given in different formats (Braille, ASL, oral, with a reader, etc.)
  • Assistive technology to take a test or validate a skill
  • Moving the location of an interview
  • Policy modifications (for example, providing extra time to take a test or, with high temperatures and long lines, allowing an applicant with multiple sclerosis to wait inside instead of outside)
It is a personal decision for applicants to disclose whether they have a disability and need accommodations. Sometimes, they don't even know until after they start work and better understand the nature of the job. In any case, it is legal for applicants to wait until they have a job offer before disclosing a disability. You're not required to provide an accommodation that constitutes an undue hardship. Nor are you mandated to fulfill applicants' specific accommodation requests. The key is for the accommodation you provide to meet their needs even if it is not the exact one they wanted.
Generally, no. You can't reject a candidate solely because of their disability, as this would constitute discrimination. However, there are a few exceptions. You may be able to reject a job applicant if their disability prevents them from performing essential job functions or poses a direct health or safety threat, even with reasonable accommodations. For example, if their disability prevents them from driving, you probably wouldn't want to hire them to be a fleet truck driver. It's important to note that employers can't reject applicants for not being able to perform minor job functions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gives the example of Wei, who applies for a file clerk position. A small part of the job (that rarely occurs in practice since others do it) is to answer phones, which Wei cannot do. The employer cannot turn Wei down just because of the phone issue.16
The benefits of accommodations go beyond the direct effects of helping specific employees do their jobs. JAN offers illustrative stats from employers' perspectives:17
  • 85 percent of employers said accommodations helped them keep a valued employee at the business
  • 53 percent said accommodations boosted productivity
  • 48 percent reported increased employee attendance
  • 34 percent noted increased interactions with co-workers
  • 30 percent said morale throughout the company improved
  • 23 percent noted savings in workers’ compensation and related costs
Accommodations usually are simple and commonsense, and they go a long way.

References and Endnotes

  1. Deafness. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  2. Hearing Impairment. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  3. Speech-Language Impairment. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  4. Blindness. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  5. Colorblind/Color Vision Deficiency. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  6. Low Vision. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  7. Cancer. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  8. Back Impairment. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  9. Pregnancy. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  10. Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace. (2018). ADA National Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  11. How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  12. Focus on Effective Workplace Accommodations for Employees with Hearing Impairments. (2014, Jan.) Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  13. Employers and the ADA: Myths and Facts. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  14. Practical Guidance on Contingent Workers and the ADA. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  15. Streamlining the Interactive Process When Accommodating Job Applicants. . (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  16. Job Applicants and the ADA. (n.d.). U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
  17. Benefits and Costs of Accommodation. (n.d.). Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from

Additional Resources


Publications and articles on the legalities of accommodations from JAN legislative specialist Linda Carter Batiste.

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Written By: Chad BrooksManaging Editor & Expert on Business Ownership
Chad Brooks is the author of "How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business," drawing from over a decade of experience to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs in launching, scaling, and sustaining profitable ventures. With a focused dedication to entrepreneurship, he shares his passion for equipping small business owners with effective communication tools, such as unified communications systems, video conferencing solutions and conference call services. A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Brooks has become a respected figure in the business landscape. His insightful contributions have been featured in publications like Huffington Post, CNBC, Fox Business, and Laptop Mag. Continuously staying abreast of evolving trends, Brooks collaborates closely with B2B firms, offering strategic counsel to navigate the dynamic terrain of modern business technology in an increasingly digital era.
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