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Accommodations at Work 101: What They Are and How to Do Them Right

Three people working in a office sitting in front of a laptop. One of them is sitting in a wheelchair.

With Examples and Solutions for Employers and Employees

For perfect on-the-job performance, salary is only one element of the overall picture. Factors like clear goals, non-judgmental feedback, work-life balance, access to equipment, training, and resources are even more important. While this may seem straightforward, individuals with disabilities may encounter roadblocks.

All employees with disabilities strive to complete their work to the best of their abilities, but sometimes they may require assistance. This is where accommodations come into play. What are accommodations, and how do they help employees perform their jobs better?

This article can be used as a guide for both employers and employees.

In it, I cover:

What Are Accommodations?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation is 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. Accommodations may include acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, providing part-time or modified work schedules, adjusting examinations, training materials, or policies, providing readers and interpreters, and making the workplace accessible and helpful to people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities need to take time to understand themselves. It is vital to learn how their disability affects their lives and how they perform their jobs. Accommodations are vital for persons with disabilities, but they can benefit every individual at some point. One example is the pandemic. During that time, most non-essential employees were granted accommodations such as remote work and video conferencing. This allowed businesses to keep operating and employees to perform their job tasks.

How Much Do Accommodations Cost?

Most accommodations are easy to obtain. Moreover, they are not expensive at all. According to a 2020 survey from the Job Accommodations Network (JAN) from the US Department of Labor Office of Disability, Employment Policy employers have reported low costs for most accommodations. Only 4 percent of organizations reported that accommodations resulted in an ongoing annual cost to the organization. The median expenditure for accommodations requiring a one-time cost was $500. When interviewing the employees who participated in the survey, 75% of those who made changes reported that the accommodations were “very effective” or “extremely effective.”

Although the needed accommodations can vary based on the specific disability, the cost is not much different. Let’s look at some examples below. 

Example #1

Situation: An office employee with limitations in using her hands found it difficult to operate the computer mouse.

Solution: The employer arranged a foot-operated computer mouse, a foot pad, and speech-to-text software. The accommodation was successful.

Cost of Accommodation: $300

Example #2

Situation: An office worker with cold sensitivity was experiencing pain in the head and neck because of the office temperature.

Solution: The employer switched off an air conditioning vent in the employee’s work area (cubicle) and diffused another vent away from the cubicle. The employee was also provided with a heated scarf.

Cost of Accommodation: $115

Example #3

Situation: A county government employee with a kidney disorder requested to work remotely because of the need to take frequent breaks and difficulty in commuting.

Solution: The employer permitted the employee to work from home and provided computer equipment to set up at home.

Cost of Accommodation: Zero (because the same equipment was provided to all employees)

Example #4

Situation: An employee working in a lab environment was finding it hard to communicate with colleagues because of progressive hearing loss.

Solution: Co-workers were asked to ensure he was looking at them before they began to speak. In addition, every verbal communication was followed by a written email. Everyone benefitted from this accommodation because they had a written record they could refer to at any time.

Cost of Accommodation: Zero

Many employers may be reluctant to hire people with disabilities because they may be afraid of accommodations costing too much money. As you can see from these examples, that is simply not true. Most accommodations are easy to purchase at a minimal cost to the organization. The same JAN survey stated that 58% of all workplace accommodations for employees cost absolutely nothing to execute; the remaining ones cost an average of $500. These accommodations are a one-time but long-term solution. 

What is the Job Accommodations Network?

The Job Accommodations Network, or JAN, is a beneficial resource for employees with disabilities and their supervisors. If you are wondering where to begin, this should be your go-to resource. JAN provides employees with disabilities with different accommodation ideas, suggestions on how to request accommodations, tips on how to disclose a disability, and a list of employment rights that employees have under the ADA. 

For supervisors, JAN offers free and confidential consultations. These consultations include practical guidance on workplace accommodation solutions, accommodation process strategies, and employment provisions of Title 1 of the ADA and related legislation. The site also has an A-to-Z list of disabilities and accommodations and an ADA resource library. JAN is an excellent resource to refer to if you have any questions on accommodations or employment rights under the ADA.

Requesting and Negotiating Accommodations

For employees who have disabilities, it can be extremely nerve-wracking to ask your supervisors for accommodations. How do I explain what I need to my boss? What exactly do I say when requesting accommodations? These are questions that one may ask at one point or another. 

The employee’s responsibility is to identify what accommodations they need and explain to their supervisor how they would help them perform their job. The supervisor’s responsibility is to listen to their employees and work together to create a plan to get the accommodations they need at a reasonable cost. 

Employees and employers need to have constant dialogue. This will aid in developing creative solutions to find suitable accommodations. The accommodations may be different from what the employee requested. As long as both parties agree that the accommodations fit the employee’s needs, they should be appropriate. 

When finding accommodation solutions, employees and supervisors may need to meet each other halfway to find a compromise that fits their needs. When meeting with their employees, supervisors need to keep an open mind and not only find creative solutions for their employee’s accommodation needs but also provide accommodation at a reasonable cost to the organization. Employees must advocate for what they need, be flexible, and understand that even if specific accommodation is requested, it only sometimes means it will be provided. A supervisor may have a different idea for accommodation that costs less and helps the employee perform their job more efficiently.

Examples of accommodations for different disabilities

Many employees might require specific accommodations based on the type of disability they have. Here, we will discuss different types of disabilities and explain how specific accommodations would help them at work. 

Sensory Disabilities

Suppose an employee has a sensory disability. Some reasonable accommodations might include a flexible workspace that allows employees to choose an environment that suits their sensory needs. In that case, companies can create quiet zones or areas with lower noise levels. Employers could allow lighting adjustment and neutral colors in the office to create a calm workspace. Companies can also create sensory breakrooms that employees can use throughout the day.

Physical Disabilities

Employees with physical disabilities might benefit from making the workplace accessible for employees who use wheelchairs. This might include making sure all office doors and hallways are wide enough for employees in wheelchairs to pass through. Providing desks and tables that can be adjusted in height. Ensuring enough space for people to move around their workspace in a wheelchair. Providing room to store a wheelchair or other mobility devices if the individual prefers to use an office chair while working. Employees might need assistive technology accommodations such as an assessable keyboard, mouse, and joystick to make it easier to use the computer. Companies can provide accessible software on phones and computers, such as speech recognition or voice-activated computing. 

If you follow my blog, you already know that I live with a condition called cerebral palsy. For my personal needs, my supervisor purchased a word prediction software that helps me type by giving me choices of words I can select without having to hit every key.

Mental Health Disabilities

A mental health disability can impact every aspect of a person’s life, including their ability to do their job. Accommodations that may help employees with mental health disabilities might include flexible hours and the ability to work from home. Companies can allow leave time for reasons related to mental health. Employees who have mental health disabilities may need to have a schedule with breaks based on the individual’s needs instead of a fixed work schedule. Employees should also be allowed to have a quiet workspace where they can concentrate more easily. It can be extremely challenging to work with a mental health disability, but if employees are in constant communication with their supervisors about their needs, they will find success.

Assistive Technology Accommodations

Over the years, Assistive Technology has played a major role in helping employees with disabilities perform their jobs more efficiently. Some examples include adapted computers, keyguards, word prediction software, voice recognition software, and screen and text readers. For employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, closed captioning, face-to-face keyboard communication systems, and amplified telephones would be helpful. For employees with visual impairments, braille displays, vision software, and making sure reading materials have large print may be useful. Accommodations for people with speech impairments might include communication boards, voice amplification systems, speech output software, and speech-generating devices. Assistive technology that would help employees with physical disabilities includes accessible keyguards, mouse, joysticks, word prediction, and voice recognition software. 


Accommodations are useful tools that can help employees with disabilities perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. The Job Accommodations Network is a valuable resource for both employees with disabilities and their employers to reference if they have any questions about job accommodations or the ADA. Employees with disabilities should evaluate their job tasks and think about how their disability affects how they complete those tasks to determine what accommodations would benefit them the most. Employers must collaborate and brainstorm new ideas with their employees to find the best accommodations that fit their job needs.

I’m Kylie Moore, from Roswell, Georgia, living with Cerebral Palsy. I’ve dedicated my career to advocating for the disability community, creating self-advocacy programs, and serving on boards. I founded the Ambassador Program at AADD, received the Tom Miller National Advocacy Award in 2020, and now advise Arts InCommunity. When not teaching, I can be found watching the Georgia Bulldogs or my beloved New England Patriots play football or participating in wheelchair sports.

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