The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law 30 years ago, with the goal of increasing access and opportunities for people with disabilities in employment and other aspects of everyday life. While there are many signs of progress — from ADA-accessible subway stations to recreational facilities — disability discrimination remains a persistent workplace issue. In FY 2019, disability discrimination made up 33.4% of all discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), second only to retaliation charges (53.8%).
Complying with the ADA and raising awareness of disability discrimination is an ongoing process. Providing ADA training, regularly reviewing business policies and recruiting and hiring procedures, and addressing feedback from employees with disabilities are all positive steps to help organizations create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, and avoid steep penalties for ADA violations.
What is disability discrimination?
The ADA covers all aspects of employment, from recruiting, hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, training, leave and benefits. Disability discrimination can occur when an employer:
- Treats a qualified employee or applicant with a disability unfavorably because they have a disability;
- Fails to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees who need them to apply for a job, do a job, or enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment;
- Discriminates against an employee due to an association with an individual with a disability; or
- Harasses or fails to stop the harassment of an employee on the basis of a disability.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to participate in the application process or perform essential job functions. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals, unless it would impose a significant expense or disrupt operations of the business.
While there isn’t a universal guideline for what constitutes a reasonable accommodation, some common examples include:
- Assistive listening devices, such as hearing aid compatible headsets or noise amplification headsets
- Talk-to-text and captioning for audio, phone calls, recordings, etc.
- Accessible facilities (ramps, elevators, lifts, grab bars, auto open/close entrances)
- Adjusting heights of desks, workstations and chairs
- Flexible work schedules and remote work
- Qualified readers or interpreters
- A rest area or private space to take medication
- Accommodations for cognitive needs (clearly written instructions, job coaching, color coded systems, etc.)
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Now, with heightened attention on the value (and challenges) of diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s important for leaders to ensure that people with disabilities — including veterans with disabilities — are part of the conversation to improve workplace culture. This includes actively seeking and promoting the diverse skills and talents of people with disabilities, addressing unconscious bias and stereotypes and removing barriers to their success — both physical and attitudinal.
The 30th Anniversary of the ADA is an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of employees with disabilities, and the important work that remains to prevent disability discrimination and create a more diverse, inclusive and accessible workplace for all employees.