Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation


What might I want to know about accommodations?

What is an accommodation?

An accommodation is a change to how things are done or constructed. “Reasonable Accommodations” refers to protections for workers with disabilities. This is the legal term under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA.  A disability is a condition, including psychiatric conditions, that limits your ability to do a major life activity.  For example, it might be difficult to take care of yourself, or to go to work, or go to school.  An accommodation is a change to the work or school environment that helps the you succeed in work or school. An accommodation “levels the playing field” so that people with disabilities can take part in settings that people without disabilities can take part in.

Reasonable Accommodations

A resource to help employers, teachers, employees and students address work and school issues, reasonable accommodations, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This website contains information related to laws, disclosure, and situations related to having a mental illness in the workplace or school setting.

Job Accommodation Network

This website provides answers to questions about employment aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.

How do I know what kind of accommodations I need?

The kind of accommodation you need will depend on how your disability interferes with your work on the job. This can be called a functional limitation.  For example, someone who uses a wheelchair who can’t easily access the desks in her office may request that the desk be raised. Another example is a person who takes medications that makes their mouth so dry that it’s hard to work may find that they work better if they are allowed to have water at their station.  A student with a trauma history or anxiety may find that sitting near the door may lessen the anxiety so that they can concentrate on the lesson.

There are lots of ways to understand what accommodations are possible.  For example, you can consider the different types of accommodations, such as adjusting work schedules, allowing job coaches, and restructuring the job.  In addition, you can think about it in terms of which potential accommodations work for the condition you have.  The following are some example sites that offer information according to type of diagnosis:

How do I make an accommodation request?

There are a couple of things you will need to do if you need an accommodation on the job.

1. Disclose your disability.

In order to request an accommodation, you will need to tell your employer about your disability. This is called “disclosure” of the disability, and involves telling the employer about your condition. The reason to tell your employer about your illness is that it can get in the way of your work, and about how the disability gets in your way, or the limitations it causes (functional limitations).  If you don’t tell your employer that you have a disability, your request may not make sense to the employer, and you won’t have rights under the law.

Youth, Disclosure, & the Workplace: Why, When, What, & How

This article from United States Office of Disability Employment Policy discusses the important questions that come with the disclosure decision.

Disclosing Your Disability to an Employer

A step-by-step guide to telling your employer about a disability that gets in the way of work.

2. Make your request.

The next step is to make your request for the accommodation itself.  You can use “plain English” when requesting the accommodation.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you can make a simple request such as: “I’m having trouble getting to work on time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.”

PDF: A Practical Guide for People With Mental Health Conditions Who Want to Work

This guide, written for people with lived experience, explains how vocational recovery is possible. Additionally, it covers important topics such as disclosure.

Rocky Mountain ADA Center

The Rocky Mountain ADA Center, a member of the National Network of ADA Centers, aims to provide information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to individuals & organizations in Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, & South Dakota. It is staffed by people with disabilities, spouses and parents of people with disabilities, as well as people with professional experience in the disability field.

If I ask for an accommodation, am I guaranteed to get one?

Great question! You are actually not guaranteed to get the accommodation that you ask for. People with disabilities may request an accommodation, and employers are required by law to consider the accommodation request. Employers are generally required to accommodate disabilities in the workplace. They also need to have some discretion about how they provide the accommodation. Employers may reject, for example, an accommodation request due to unreasonable cost, if it would be an “undue hardship” to the employer. Also, if the accommodation would need an overhaul of how things are done in the workplace, it may also be considered to be an undue burden, and be rejected. You may find that you need to negotiate with your employer about the accommodation.

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