Having fair, equal access to career opportunities is a basic human right for any person. For people with disabilities, accommodations might be necessary in order to access these opportunities. But receiving these accommodations isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds.
If you’re wondering how to ask for accommodations at work, the 5 steps outlined below will help you to navigate this process, understand your rights, and feel confident in advocating for your specific needs as an employee.
#1 Know Your Rights
The first thing to know when looking into how to ask for accommodations at work is this: you are protected under the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against in any environment, including the workplace. According to this law, employers must provide accommodations that ensure equal access for people with disabilities to all opportunities that non-disabled workers would have. Thus, people with disabilities are legally allowed to request accommodations from their employers. These might be things like:
- Wheelchair access
- Ergonomic work equipment (chairs, keyboards, etc.)
- Digital accessibility software
Note that when you’re looking to make the workplace more accessible for your needs, you might come across the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” Simply put, this means that the accommodation you request has to be within reason of what you need as well as the employer’s ability to provide it.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that employers are required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities when they make a request and provide the proper medical documentation. Employers are not allowed to ask about an employee’s disability status. However, in order to receive these accommodations, employees must make a request and therefore disclose that they have a medical condition. This brings us to the next step when asking for accommodations.
#2 Plan to Disclose
For people with disabilities, disclosing their diagnosis during job interviews or even after securing the position can be a daunting concept. Despite the protection from the ADA, some people with disabilities worry that if they disclose, their employer might find a reason to fire them, keep them from new opportunities, or not hire them in the first place. But it is unlawful for any employer to discriminate against you for disclosing a disability or for requesting accommodations.
When you do disclose, it’s important to note that you do not have to give your employer your entire medical history just to receive an accommodation. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) recommends sharing just enough details to justify how the accommodation(s) would help.
For instance, somebody who has a gastrointestinal condition might need an office closer to the restrooms. But this doesn’t mean that you have to go into all the details of why you need that spot. Simply stating the type of condition (autoimmune, chronic pain, low vision, etc.) is usually enough of a reason for most employers to accommodate.
#3 Make the Initial Request in Writing
Another key step in how to ask for accommodations at work would be creating a paper trail. There are many different benefits to putting your initial request for work accommodations in writing. Not only does this guarantee that there will be no misunderstandings about what you are requesting, but it also gives you the opportunity to carefully craft what you would like to say.
A general format that you write in an email or a letter might look something like this:
I am writing to request accommodations that will help me to perform more effectively within this position. I experience chronic pain in my wrists from a prior medical condition. There are a few adjustments to my workstation that could help me to lessen my pain and fatigue, including:
- Using dictation software to write
- Having wrist rests on my keyboard
- Taking small breaks
I am able to provide a note from my doctor about how this condition impacts me if needed. Additionally, if you would like further information, please feel free to reach out to me during my shifts Monday through Friday beginning at 8 A.M.
#4 Follow Up on Decision
Included in your letter, you can request a time to meet to discuss your employer’s decision. Remember that, legally, they have to provide you with reasonable accommodations, so long as the accommodations do not bring the company unwarranted hardship. But that said, there are a couple of reasons as to why your request for workplace accommodations could be denied.
First, your employer might need more information in order to approve your accommodations. This could mean getting a note from your doctor to confirm your diagnosis or getting a letter from a physical therapist that explains how the accommodation could help you.
Second, your employer might believe that there are other, more reasonable accommodations than the ones requested. An unreasonable request would include anything that excuses the employee from an essential part of their position.
For example, somebody with migraines might have significant difficulty with certain tasks that involve looking at a computer screen. Instead of eliminating those tasks entirely, alternative accommodations could instead be:
- Extra time (where deadlines allow)
- Having screen breaks
- A work environment with low lighting
Accommodations aren’t ways to get out of doing the work required of employees—rather, they’re shifts in environment, tools, or methods to allow somebody to achieve the same end result without unnecessary or harmful physical and mental strain.
Though your employer might not automatically state why your accommodation request was denied, you can inquire after the decision has been reached. You can also ask for their decision in writing to continue that paper trail that you started with your initial request. This will help to keep you protected if you need to take any further action.
#5 Seek Additional Resources if Necessary
In the event that your accommodation request was denied without just cause, you are within your rights to appeal or even to take legal action. This can be intimidating for many employees and they might fear retaliation. Know that, even though the process could be difficult, you are protected under the law.
Before it gets to the point of legal recourse, there are other steps you can take and other resources to seek out. Consider communicating with your human resource department to discuss the steps necessary to get your accommodations. HR is also there to give you more information on your rights as a worker with a disability so that you can truly thrive in your workplace environment.
The Bottom Line
Accommodations are essential in helping people with disabilities achieve their career goals without compromising their physical or mental health. If you’re feeling unsure about how to ask for accommodations at work, know that you are protected by law—and rest assured that many employers will want to make your workspace somewhere you feel comfortable, confident, and cared for.
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