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How do you ask for job accommodation in the workplace?


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, which set in law that individuals with disabilities were guaranteed to be provided the same opportunities as non-disabled individuals, which includes within the workplace and professional places. That said, asking for accommodations guaranteed in the law is not easy because many people with disabilities often fear angering employers or being seen as “less than” by managers and co-workers. People with disabilities need not worry about asking for any needed accommodations as supports are there to help along the way. As for how to ask, here is guidance to help during a career.


Reasonable accommodations. Regarding reasonable accommodations, such requests should be tied to justifiable needs due to an existing disability or address unreasonable work environments. For people living with disabilities, having wheelchair-accessible entrances and office furniture is in line with reasonable accommodation requests for technologies to aid people with hearing or visual loss. For all employees, requesting accommodations, according to EEOC, is reasonable if, “any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.”


Notify Employers. While there are undoubtedly employers who are less than thrilled with having to spend money to offer needed accommodations, most employers not only enthusiastically support providing employees with needed resources and accommodations but ensuring yearly budgets set aside funds for implemented accommodation needs. The problem? Many people with disabilities do not notify employers of their disabilities and accommodation needs. Notify employers from the start! Notify the hiring manager of those needing accommodations such as wheelchair access or an American Sign Language interpreter for a job interview or a meeting. For employees needing specialized desks or chairs due to disabilities, please ask. These accommodations need to be provided, and most employers can provide them. As an aside, people with disabilities often are aware of new technologies developed to aid them, advances that an employer may likely not be aware of. Notifying employers of these technological advances is a great way to ensure a business or organization continues to offer the best services for their employees with disabilities.


Speak to supervisors or Human Resources staff. Often, asking an immediate supervisor or a Human Resources representative is likely the first step once hired. Let them know of difficulties you have and what accommodations would make it easier to complete your work. Follow the chain of command here. If a supervisor does not act on your request, go to that person’s supervisor. In many businesses or organizations, you may find a form you need to complete to request an accommodation; check with HR or a supervisor to see if that is the case, and then complete and submit the form promptly. Check with the ADA Coordinator onsite for assistance if such a position within your organization exists.


Speak with a union representative. Employees who are part of a union can seek guidance from a union steward or other union representative on requesting accommodations. Union representatives will likely know the quickest way to request and successfully obtain a needed accommodation. If a request for an accommodation is denied, speak with the union representative in HR to see what steps are in place to appeal the denial. There will likely be a grievance procedure already in place. You must obtain documentation as to why your accommodation request was denied. If the appeal fails, consider filing a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Lastly, if all other avenues were unproductive, consider hiring an attorney specializing in helping in ADA-linked cases.


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