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Reasonable Accommodation

Although many people with disabilities can apply for and perform jobs without any need for reasonable accommodations, there are workplace barriers that keep others from performing jobs, which they could do with some form of accommodation. These barriers may be physical obstacles such as inaccessible facilities or equipment, or they may be procedures or rules such as procedures concerning when work is performed, or how essential or marginal functions are performed.

While "Reasonable Accommodation" is a legal obligation under both state and federal disability laws, it is, more importantly, an interactive process through which the employer and employee can explore options and develop solutions in order to find ways to allow the employee to be productive. It is a problem-solving process, and, if done correctly, can lead to solutions that will enable individuals with disabilities to be able to meet the requirements of the job. In many cases, an appropriate accommodation will be obvious, and the employer should always consult the person with the disability as the first step in considering an accommodation. This means engaging in an informal dialogue to clarify what the individual needs and identifying the appropriate reasonable accommodation to meet that need. Being able to identify the problems posed by the workplace barrier and getting suggestions from the individual with a disability can go a long way in assisting the employer in determining the type of reasonable accommodation to provide.

The information on this page is intended to provide employers with a brief overview of what reasonable accommodation is, how to engage in a recommended four-step informal interactive process to determine what is the most effective accommodation in a given circumstance, and technical assistance resources available to help employers successfully work through the process.

Reasonable Accommodation - What Is It

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job, an employment practice, the work environment, or the manner or circumstances under which a job is customarily done that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. An equal employment opportunity means an opportunity to reach the same level of performance or to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment as those that are available to an average employee without a disability working in the same situation. When we are talking about something at work, a reasonable accommodation is a request to make some kind of change on the job. The change needs to allow someone with a disability to get the job done. If the disability makes work hard for an individual and a change will help get the job done. This is called a reasonable accommodation. The obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation applies to all aspects of the employment process, and can arise any time a person's disability or job changes.

Reasonable Accommodation is a means of overcoming unnecessary barriers that prevent or restrict employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for such employment. These barriers can be physical barriers that make it difficult to get into and around a work site or to use necessary work equipment, barriers in the way people communicate with each other, or barriers in other people's minds such as unfounded fears, stereotypes, presumptions, and misconceptions about job performance, safety, absenteeism, costs, or acceptance by co-workers and customers.

Meeting the obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation does not, however, have to be difficult or costly. Reasonable accommodation can be as simple as permitting use of accrued paid leave or unpaid leave for necessary treatment, allowing for a part-time or modified work schedule, altering when or how an essential job function is performed, or reassignment to a vacant position that the person is qualified for. The cost of providing an accommodation can also be inexpensive. The Job Accommodation Network surveys employers who call for accommodation information to obtain feedback on the cost and benefit of accommodation, and results indicate that 71% of accommodations cost $500 or less with 20% of those costing nothing.

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Frequently Asked Questions

As an employer who may be exploring the accommodation process with an applicant or employee with a disability, you may have such questions as what is a reasonable accommodation, or how do I know if an employee needs a reasonable accommodation? Click here to get answers to these and other questions about the reasonable accommodation process that are most frequently asked by employers. This information is taken from the Washington State Human Rights Commission website section entitled "Employers and Business.

Forms of Reasonable Accommodation

There are many different kinds of reasonable accommodations. They can include:

  • job restructuring, which can include eliminating, redelegating, exchanging, or redesigning those job functions and procedures that are nonessential;
  • modifying work schedules to include part-time or modified work schedules;
  • making physical facilities accessible by removing architectural barriers in both those areas that need to be accessible for an employee to be able to perform the essential functions of the job, and in those non-work areas used by employees for other purposes (e.g. the break room lunch room or lounge, training rooms, restrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums, and employer-provided transportation);
  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices such as adaptive hardware and software for computers, electronic visual aids, and audio recordings for persons who are blind or visually impaired, or telephone handset amplifiers, telephones compatible with hearing aids, and telecommunications devices for the deaf for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • providing qualified readers, interpreters, and assistants;
  • reassignment to a vacant position for which the person is qualified; and
  • reassignment to a light-duty position for an injured worker with a disability if one is available that the worker is qualified for.

Personal use items that assist an individual in his/her daily life on and off the job ( e.g., eyeglasses, hearing aids, service animals, and wheelchairs) are not considered accommodations.

Exception : In rare circumstances, equipment that otherwise would be considered "personal" may be required as a reasonable accommodation if it is specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs. For example, an employer might be required to provide a person with a severe vision impairment with glasses that are specifically needed to use a computer monitor.

Identifying a Reasonable Accommodation

In many cases, an appropriate accommodation will be obvious, and you should always consult the person with the disability as the first step in considering an accommodation.  However, in some cases, the appropriate accommodation may not be so easy to identify.  In such cases, the employer and the individual with a disability should work together to identify the appropriate accommodation.  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations provide guidance for an informal, interactive process to find an effective accommodation.  This four-step informal, interactive process can be used to find an effective accommodation that will enable an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job, as well as to identify accommodations for job applicants and to provide equal benefits and privileges of employment.  The four steps include:

  • Look at the particular job involved.  What is its purpose and its essential functions?
  • Consult with the individual with a disability to find out his/her specific physical or mental abilities and limitations as they relate to the essential functions of the job.  Look at the barriers to job performance and assess how they can be overcome with an accommodation.
  • In consultation with the individual, identify potential accommodations and assess how effective each would be in enabling the individual to perform the essential job functions.
  • If more than one accommodation would be effective to provide an equal employment opportunity, consider the preference of the individual with a disability and select the accommodation that best meets the needs of the individual and the employer.
  • To get additional information on the four-step informal, interactive process click here to go to the EEOC Title I Technical Assistance Manual.

When does the Interactive process begin?

A request for reasonable accommodation is the first step in the informal, interactive process between the individual and the employer.  Once a qualified individual with a disability has made a request, the employer must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation.

In many cases, the appropriate reasonable accommodation may be so obvious to either or both the individual with a disability and the employer that it may not be necessary to proceed with this step-by-step analysis.  For example, if an employee who uses a wheelchair requests that his or her desk be placed on blocks to elevate the desktop above the arms of the wheelchair and the employer complies, an appropriate acommodation has been requested, identified, and provided without either the employer or the employee being aware of having engaged in any kind of reasonable accommodation process.

However, in some instances neither the individual requesting the accommodation nor the employer can readily identify the appropriate accommodation.  For example, the individual needing the accommodation may not know enough about the equipment used by the employer or the exact nature of the work site to suggest an appropriate accommodation. Likewise, the employer may not know enough about the individual's disability or the limitations that disability would impose on the performance of the job to suggest an appropriate accommodation. Under such circumstances, it may be necessary for the employer to initiate a more defined problem solving process, such as the step-by-step process described above, as part of its reasonable effort to identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.

The Undue Hardship Limitation

An employer does not have to make a reasonable accommodation if it can be shown that, to do so, would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.  An undue hardship is an action that requires "significant difficulty or expense" in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the operation.  Whether a particular accommodation would impose an undue hardship must always be determined on a case-by-case basis.  An accommodation that poses an undue hardship for one employer at a particular time may not pose an undue hardship for another employer, or even for the same employer at another time.

For more information on the Undue Hardship Limitation Click here to go to the EEOC Title I Technical Assistance Manual

Technical assistance available

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issues enforcement guidances as a part of an active technical assistance program to help employers, other covered entities, and people with disabilities learn about their obligations and rights under the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title I of the ADA).  The Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act clarifies the rights and responsibilities of employers and individuals with disabilities regarding reasonable accommodation and undue hardship.  This Guidance examines what "reasonable accommodation" means and who is entitled to receive it.  The Guidance discusses reasonable accommodations applicable to the hiring process and to the benefits and privileges of employment.

Click here to go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission site and view the Guidance in its entirety.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the U.S. Department of Labor.  JAN's mission is to facilitate the employment and retention of workers with disabilities by providing employers, employment providers, people with disabilities, their family members and other interested parties with information on job accommodations, self-employment and small business opportunities and related subjects.  JAN's efforts are in support of the employment, including self-employment and small business ownership, of people with disabilities.  JAN represents the most comprehensive resource for job accommodations available.  JAN provides individualized accommodation information on a case-by-case basis.

To learn more about how JAN can help you click here to go to the Job Accommodation Network site.

For technical assistance questions or to problem-solve about appropriate accommodations in a particular situation, contact the Able Job Seekers Technical Assistance Center toll-free at:

(866) 438-3292 (V)

(360) 438-3207 (TTY)

Or e-mail:


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