25 years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.
The idea was to “level the playing field” for all employees regardless of ability. If an employee with a disability is qualified for a position, but finds that due to his/her disability is not able to compete on the same level, Title 1 of the ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations. This reasonable accommodation is not an exemption from requirements of a position, but rather the removal of barriers that keep qualified people from competing on the same level.
Before we proceed, there are three key terms that we should define: qualified, disability, and reasonable. According to Title 1 of the ADA, a qualified candidate is one who satisfies the skills, experience, education and other job related requirements for a position and can perform primary job tasks with or without reasonable accommodation. So, an individual who is not qualified for a particular position does not have the protection administered by the ADA in regards to the employer being responsible for providing reasonable accommodations.
What is the definition of a disability? Technically speaking, to have a disability, one must satisfy what is commonly referred to as the “three pongs:”
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- A record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Be regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
The first two “prongs” are obvious. For example, I use a wheelchair for mobility 24/7. It’s obvious that I have a disability because I am in a wheelchair, but to qualify for a particular service for people with disabilities, I must provide a record of my disability.
The third “prong” was introduced to handle issues of prejudice, such as an employer discriminating based on a medical condition, whether one exists or not (perceived). An example would be denial of employment based solely on the fact that an applicant had back problems in the past – without investigating whether the applicant is able to perform duties satisfactorily and safely.
ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations in order for all applicants and employees to perform essential functions of employment. The term “reasonable” is used such that the accommodations do not produce an undue hardship for the employer that would cause significant difficulty/expense. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reasonable accommodations are required to ensure:
- Equal opportunity in the application process
- To enable a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job
- To enable a qualified employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment
An accommodation may take many forms, from making physical changes to a building to simply adjusting work hours. According to the Job Accommodation Network, 807 employers were surveyed from 2008-2014. In that survey 57% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing while 43% averaged $500. According to that survey, the low cost of accommodations provided a high impact. More information can be found in the “Low Cost, High Impact” report.
In the next blog, I’ll discuss the process by which employees may make a request for accommodations. Until then I’ll see you at work!
David Spears is a member of the Workforce SolutionsNavigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.