Professional Resume Writer, Career Writer and Career Coach
Doing a job for eight hours a day, five days a week is exhausting for anyone. But for those with a disability or chronic pain, it can be especially taxing—something must change. Asking for reasonable accommodations at work can feel tricky, especially if you’re new to the job. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), physical disabilities, health conditions, and symptoms of mental health are all valid workplace accommodations. When you request accommodations, it means that your condition is impacting your ability to perform at work.
Keep reading for guidance on how to disclose your disability and request help in a way that you’re comfortable with. (I promise, it’s possible.)
What is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation at Work?
At work, reasonable accommodations include any realistic measures an employer can take to enable their employees to complete essential job functions well. If you have a disability or need assistance performing your tasks properly, you can make a request to your employer for accommodations. Reasonable requests might include:
- Providing reserved or accessible parking for those with physical limitations
- Improving accessibility in a work area, such as wider hallways for wheelchair access
- Changing the presentation of tests and training materials
- Providing software that magnifies the computer screen for people with visual impairments
- Allowing a flexible work schedule for those with aggressive medication schedules
- Adjusting employee/company feedback in writing, or another format, for an employee with varying comprehension needs
- Modifying policy to allow for an employee’s service animal
- Purchasing ergonomic chairs for people with back or muscle issues
- Offering private offices or private space enclosures for psychiatric or sensory issues
How to Request Accommodations at Work
Being honest with your employer about disclosure and the need for accommodations is a direct and effective way to handle issues that may arise. Open communication is key. Be clear. Make it known that you are asking for these accommodations to do your work successfully, and at a high level. Saying, “This is what I need to perform at my current level: X, Y, and Z” is much more effective than saying, “I can’t do my job anymore.”
When you’re ready to open a line of communication, follow these tips for an honest, transparent, and purposeful conversation:
Keep it Simple
Asking for help can be as simple as “I need to talk to you about how my migraines are making it difficult to get to work on time.” At this time, there’s no need to reference ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodations.” Plain, direct wording is best.
Put it in Writing
Though not required under ADA, we recommend documenting your request. Store your request documentation in one place: what you asked for, when you asked, and a letter from your medical provider or medical documentation. Your employer may also provide their own paperwork for these requests.
Involve the Right People
Disclose your information to whomever you feel most comfortable. This could be a direct supervisor or the human resources department. HR will store your information confidentially while moving forward with the accommodation process. If you’re unsure how the process works, ask HR to advise on the details.
Spin it Positively
While serious, this conversation doesn’t have to be a somber, doom and gloom fest. Instead, educate your peers on what you need, how it will aid you, and how others around you can work together successfully. (More on this below.)
Leverage Resources Available to You
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides listings by disability, topic, and limitation to help you determine effective accommodations and comply with ADA. Access examples of reasonable accommodations, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information like a sample accommodation request letter. Also leverage groups for specific disabilities and health conditions, such as the American Diabetes Association and the National Federation of the Blind.
When To Request Accommodations According to Someone Who’s Done It
How and when you disclose your disability and request accommodations depends on a few things:
- The job and the duties required to perform it successfully: Decide if disclosure is necessary to continuing in your job or maintaining a safe workplace. If so, how/what specific accommodations are necessary for success?
- Your disability type: When you address a physical disability might be different than when you mention a progressive disability or one with hidden symptoms.
- Current employment status: The risks are greater for a candidate interviewing for the role or a newly hired employee than a long-term employee in good standing with the company.
Every situation is unique. Every accommodations’ conversation will differ. For example, my disability is visible to anyone I meet in person, as Cerebral Palsy is a physical impairment with a wide range of symptoms. Knowing this, I feel awkward—a bit shady, even—if I don’t discuss my disability during an in-person interview. I make a point to mention Cerebral Palsy during our initial conversations and spin it positively. So, requesting accommodations down the line doesn’t come as such a shock, should I need them later.
Even more, taking charge of the conversation helps me control the narrative from the beginning. One of my favorite ways to start is:
“I have Cerebral Palsy, and it’s made me the person I am today: resilient, tough, and empathetic. It’ll take me a bit longer to walk to the meeting, and I’ll need to sit rather than stand to present, but I’ll arrive ready to get answers from the team and move the project along.”Lauren Hamer’s conversation starter
To Sum It Up
If I’m being honest, I feel like the accommodations conversation provides me an extra opportunity to establish good working relationships. Being transparent, open, and clear, shows employers that I am proactive about getting what I need to succeed; I’m not afraid of tough conversations. (What employer doesn’t want that from their people?) Second, it opens the door for honest, educational conversations on both sides. Not every employer is well-versed in workplace accommodations, and your request becomes an opportunity for all to learn about diversity and inclusion practices.
I like to engage as soon as possible. For me, that’s during the interview stage, but for others, it might feel appropriate to discuss accommodations at a later date. Again, when you approach it isn’t as important as how. There is no specific time frame for requesting an accommodation under ADA law. Still, I recommend disclosing your disability and requesting accommodations before you incur difficulties on the job, or at least before they affect your performance. The sooner you communicate, the better your work environment will be.
10 Companies with Initiatives for Professionals with Disabilities
Asking for accommodations can be uncomfortable. However, if you work for a company that is known for their continuous efforts in fostering more inclusive and accessible work environments, then it can make that conversation a little easier.