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Reasonable Accommodations for People with Disabilities

If you are a person with a disability, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations in your workplace and your dwelling.

At their core, federal and state disability laws are intended to “level the playing field” and to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their workplaces, dwellings, and public spaces in the same way that people without disabilities do. Oftentimes, an equal opportunity requires a little something extra: the legal term for these extra services, special equipment, or modified rules is “reasonable accommodation.” If you are a person with a disability, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations in your workplace, your dwelling, public spaces you visit, and even private businesses you frequent, if these accommodations are needed for you to live, work, play, visit, use, and enjoy place in question.


The extra wide disabled parking spaces near the supermarket entrance marked with the ubiquitous blue wheelchair sign? In essence, those are reasonable accommodations. The sign language interpreters you see behind politicians giving speeches on tv? Another reasonable accommodation. The rule allowing service dogs into spaces regular pets can’t go? Yep—a reasonable accommodation. How about the curb ramps and chirping audible indicators at every intersection downtown? Yes, in essence, those are also accommodations for people with disabilities. As you can see, reasonable accommodations are omnipresent in our lives and are provided as a matter of course when cities serve their citizens, businesses interact with customers, and when architects design structures.


But this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990(“ADA”), and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”), people with disabilities were routinely and systematically excluded from mainstream American life—sometimes by architectural oversight (have you ever tried to ascend staircases in a wheelchair?!), often by ignorance (“people with disabilities don’t drive, why would they need special parking spaces?”), but sometimes by intentional discrimination (“we don’t want those kinds of kids in our school!”). Fortunately, laws like the ADA and the FHAA make discrimination illegal (whether intentional or incidental), and provide rules for businesses, government entities, and employers to follow when serving, hiring or interacting with people with disabilities.

As introduced above, one of the ways that these laws actually prevent discrimination is by requiring employers, landlords, and government entities to provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities.


REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE


An employer covered by the ADA (i.e. those with 15+ employees) is legally required to provide a reasonable workplace accommodation to an employee if:

  1. The employee has disability that substantially limits certain life activities such as: walking, eating, seeing, hearing, sleeping, breathing , sitting, standing, etc.;

  2. An accommodation can be made without undue hardship; and

  3. The accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.

If you’re interested, you can check out the law at: 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(2)(ii) (1997). See US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1521 (2002).


But, what is a reasonable accommodation? The ADA defines an accommodation as “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(o) (1997) (emphasis added). In other words, a reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to the work environment that would enable a person with a disability to do their job.


Reasonable accommodations include:

  • An ergonomic chair,

  • A knee brace,

  • A seat by a window,

  • A flexible work schedule,

  • An interpreter,

  • A stool to sit on,

  • A standing desk.

Honestly, the list is endless. And, again, as long as providing the accommodation doesn’t cause an undue hardship to the employer and will allow the employee to perform their job, the accommodation must be given.


REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS IN HOUSING


Under the FHAA (or the Utah state equivalent), it is illegal discrimination for housing providers [which includes private landlords owning 4+ units, homeowners associations, condo boards, real estate managers, or municipalities] to “refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a [person with disabilities] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling”. 24 C.F.R. § 100.24. What does that mean in plain English? Put simply, if a person with a disability needs a change in the rules (e.g., an emotional support animal in a “no-pet” apartment), a modification to the architecture (e.g., a grab bar in the shower), or a special service (e.g., lease in Braille), in order to enjoy their dwelling on an equal basis with non-disabled residents, the housing provider must provide or allow the accommodations. A failure to do so is discrimination and is against the law.

Much like the ADA’s workplace rules, a reasonable accommodation in the housing context must be provided if the following are true:

  1. The requesting person has a disability that substantially limits certain life activities, or lives with somebody who has such a disability;

  2. The requested accommodation is “reasonable” and not unduly burdensome; and

  3. The requested accommodation is “necessary to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises.” U.C.A. Section 57-21-5(4)(a).

At the heart of the ADA and FHAA is the requirement that people with disabilities be able to fully enjoy and use their home. A reasonable accommodation is any modification to a living structure that would allow a person with a disability to enjoy their home. They can include:

  • A fence,

  • A ramp,

  • A railing,

  • An accessible parking space,

  • A service dog,

  • An emotional support animal.

Again, there is no end to this list. And, once more, as long as providing the accommodation would not cause an undue hardship to the provider, it must be given.


REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS IN PUBLIC SPACES


Titles II and III of the ADA prohibit discrimination in local/ state government spaces and services (Title II,) and in commercial businesses (Title III). As in the workplace and housing contexts, people with disabilities are entitled to access and enjoy the same goods, services, and spaces that people without disabilities enjoy. Accordingly, the same reasonable accommodation mandate applies to the municipality operating your city parks, the state maintaining the university and the business entities operating movie theaters, restaurants, and grocery stores in your neighborhood. Many of these accommodations have already been built-in to the system (e.g., ramps into buildings, accessible bathrooms, etc.), but people with disabilities may need to request others (e.g., ASL interpreters at doctor’s offices). Either way, if a requested accommodation is reasonable, necessary, and not cost-prohibitive, the government or business must typically grant or provide it. Its failure to do so is against the law. See, generally, 28 C.F.R. § 35.130 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.201.


Do you need an accommodation at your job? In your home? Have you been denied a needed accommodation by a business or government entity? We can help. Give us a call today and let’s get the ball rolling.