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.
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
For environmental awareness or tracking awareness
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
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.
General accommodations 4
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
Low vision 6
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
Back Impairment 8
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
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.
Now, let’s review three critical areas: the essential functions of a job, qualifying disabilities and reasonable accommodations.
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:
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
Accommodations usually are simple and commonsense, and they go a long way.
Publications and articles on the legalities of accommodations from JAN legislative specialist Linda Carter Batiste.