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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Reasonable Accommodations

The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) was enacted into law by Congress in 1990. Title I of the ADA prevents employers from discriminating against a person with a disability, on the basis of that disability, with respect to job application procedures, hiring, advancement, discharge, compensation and other terms or conditions of employment. In 2008, after a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions narrowed the definition of a “disability” so as to significantly limit the scope of the ADA, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act. The purpose of the ADAAA was to broaden the definition of “disability” and thus provide coverage to a wider group of individuals.

The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the “major life activities” of such individual. “Major life activities” include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

The ADA requires an employer with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodation” for individuals with disabilities. A “reasonable accommodation” is any change in the work environment, or in the way things are customarily done, that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. A reasonable accommodation need not be provided if it would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the business of the employer. However, an employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. Examples of reasonable accommodations include the following:

› making existing facilities accessible;
› part-time or modified work schedules;
› reassignment to a vacant position
› acquiring or modifying equipment; and
› changing tests, training materials, or policies.