Accommodation Process Overview
The following questions have been drafted to help outline the process used when determining appropriate and reasonable accommodation for individuals with documented disabilities. Important terms are defined below.
Accommodation Overview - Outline Format
Definition of Important Terms
Accommodation Overview - Outline Format
I. Is there a disability?
A. Individuals must self-identify as experiencing functional limitations as defined in 504/ADA.
B. Are there resources to aid the person who is likely to have a disability but needs help in navigating process?
II. Is the person otherwise qualified?
A. The individual must meet the same criteria for participation that apply to others.
B. Are the technical standards appropriate and fair?
III. Is there documentation?
A. The person must provide clear documentation of how he/she is impacted.
B. Are there resources or strategies to help the individual who does not experience a disability as defined by ADA/504 but who is experiencing barriers nonetheless?
IV. What is the difficulty/impact?
A. Is it disability related?
B. Does it substantially limit him/her?
V. What programs are to be accessed?
A. Programs must be accessible when viewed in their entirety.
VI. What are the appropriate accommodations?
A. What is the obstacle/inaccessible feature?
B. What could ensure equal access?
VII. Is the accommodation request reasonable?
A. Is it tied directly to the impact of disability?
B. Does it fundamentally alter the program, course, or activity, or lower standards?
C. Does it pose an undue burden? (Note that it is the entire institutional budget that must be considered so cost is rarely a justification for undue burden)
Definition of Important Terms
ADA Accessibility Guidelines – The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) are the architectural standards issued by the Access Board to implement the accessibility requirements of the ADA. To meet these requirements, private entities must use the ADAAG when designing, constructing and altering buildings. Public entities have the choice of using the ADAAG or the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), which are the standards for section 504 compliance.
Auxiliary aids – devices or services that compensate for a disabling condition. The term includes qualified interpreters or other means of communications (such as telecommunication devices for the deaf—TDDs) for hearing-impaired people; qualified readers; taped texts or other devices for sight-impaired people; adaptive equipment; and other similar services and actions.
Barrier-free environment – An environment that contains no obstacles to accessibility and usability by disabled people. Section 504, which emphasizes the concept of program accessibility, does not mandate a barrier-free environment in existing facilities. Barriers may exist under Section 504 as long as they do not impinge on program accessibility. New construction and alterations by federal funds recipients must feature a barrier-free environment, however.
Equal opportunity – Equal opportunity for qualified disabled people is an objective of Section 504. This goal translates into the achievement of accessibility, the provision of benefits, services and aids that are equally effective for disabled and non-disabled people, and programs and activities that are otherwise free from discrimination based on disability. Equal opportunity, and not merely equal treatment, is essential to eliminating discrimination. Identical treatment will not in some cases afford disabled people the adjustments or accommodations required to achieve equal opportunities to work, learn or receive services.
Equally effective – This term refers to 'equivalent' as opposed to 'identical' aids, benefits or services. Although not defined in the DOJ government-wide regulations, HHS's regulations applicable to its recipients (Appendix III:C) and subsequent analysis state that to be equally effective, an aid, benefit or service need not produce equal results; it must merely afford equal opportunities for disabled people to achieve equal results, or to gain equivalent benefits and reach the same level of achievement as non-disabled people.
Individuals with disabilities – any persons who: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (i.e. caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working); (2) have a record of such an impairment (have a history of, or have been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities); or (3) are regarded as having such an impairment (Appendix III:B:1, 41.31 of the government-wide Section 504 regulations).
'Regarded as having such an impairment' may mean: (a) having a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but is treated by a recipient as constituting such a limitation; (b) having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such an impairment; or (c) having no physical or mental impairments, as this term is defined, but is treated by a recipient as having such an impairment.
Under (1) above, only physical or mental disabilities are included; environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages are not in themselves covered, nor are homosexuality, age or prison records. A person who has any of these characteristics and also has a physical or mental impairment would be covered.
Under (2) above, people who have a history of a disabling condition (e.g., mental or emotional illness, heart disease or cancer) but no longer have the condition, and people who have been incorrectly classified as having such a condition, are protected against discrimination.
Under (3) above, people are protected by Section 504 who are ordinarily considered to be disabled but do not fall within the first two parts of the statutory definitions, such as people with a limp. This part of the definition also includes some people who might not ordinarily be considered disabled but are treated, such as people with disfiguring scars or people with no impairment.
Physical or mental impairment – (1) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or (2) any mental or physical disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities.
The term 'physical or mental impairment' includes, but is not limited to, diseases and conditions such as orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; mental retardation; emotional illness; past drug addiction and alcoholism (Appendix III:B:1, 41.31 of the government-wide 504 regulations).
Program accessiblity – 'Program accessibility' is perhaps the key term in Section 504 because federal funds recipients must ensure their programs and activities are accessible to and usable by disabled people. Program accessibility is a flexible principle allowing recipients to comply based on individual responses to their existing conditions and the needs of their disabled participants. In many instances, programs and activities may be made accessible through slight modifications and adjustments in procedures, practices and policies. In others, building renovation or construction may be required. But structural change is required only if program accessibility cannot be achieved effectively through other means (Appendix III:B:1, 41.56-41.57 of the government-wide Section 504 regulations).
Qualified individual with a disability – An individual who (1) with respect to employment, is a disabled person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question; and (2) with respect to services, is a disabled person who meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of such services. Also, the final regulations for HHS recipients (Appendix III:C) define qualified disabled person with regard to education as a disable person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the institution's programs and activities.
Factors such as safety may be considered in determining whether a disabled person is qualified. Such considerations are appropriate and are not considered violations of Section 504 as long as they are based on facts relating to the individual's qualifications, rather than assumptions or stereotypes.
In its decision in Southeastern Community College v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court held that 'a disabled person may be required to meet…the necessary physical qualifications' to be qualified for participation in a program or activity. The Court held that legitimate physical requirements may be taken into account in determining someone's qualifications for program participation, and stated that '(a)n otherwise qualified person is one who is able to meet all of a program's requirements in spite of his handicap' [emphasis added].
Qualified interpreter – means an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.
Readily achievable – Under Title III of the ADA (relating to public accommodations), this term means easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Factors to be considered include, but are not limited to, the nature and cost of the action; overall financial resources of the covered entity and facility or facilities involved; the number of people employed at such facility; and the type of operation(s) of the covered entity, including the composition, structure and functions of the workforce of the covered entity. Note the factors here are similar to those under 'undue hardship' below, as applied to employment decisions under Title I of the ADA and Section 504.
Reasonable accommodation – is the principle by which an organization's employment opportunities must be made accessible to qualified disabled people. Under Section 504 (and the ADA), organizations are required to make certain adjustments to the known physical and mental limitations of otherwise qualified disabled applicants and employees, unless it can be demonstrated that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the program (see discussion below of 'undue hardship'). For example, an employer might be required to rearrange office furniture to allow for passage of a wheelchair, relocate some offices or classrooms to a ground floor or other accessible location, or relieve a deaf file clerk of phone responsibilities.
Under Section 504, such accommodations may be required to ensure equal employment opportunities for disabled people. However, no essential job functions need be altered or new jobs created as an accommodation for disabled people (Appendix III:B:1, 41.53 of the government-wide Section 504 regulations).
Section 504 -- means Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112, 87 Statute 394(29 U.S.C. 794)).
Undue hardship – A recipient must make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified disabled applicant or employee unless it can demonstrate that such accommodation would impose 'undue hardship' on the operation of its program. The regulations provide no precise criteria for determining when an accommodation becomes an undue hardship (Appendix III:B:1, 41.53 of the government-wide Section 504 regulations).
Viewed in its entirety – Recipients must ensure that, when viewed in its entirety, a program or activity is accessible to disabled individuals. Not every component of a program or activity, therefore, must be accessible for program accessibility to be achieved. For example, if a university offers several sections of a particular course, not all sections of the course need be made accessible to disabled people, as long as enough sections are accessible to permit full participation by disabled people.