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 are Reasonable Accommodations?


Most employees and students need adjustments to help them perform at their best. A parent who works full-time needs a day off to get a sick child from school, or an adult student needs an extension on a term paper because his job requires him to make an unscheduled trip out of town. Both employee and student have the necessary skills to do what’s required if these adjustments are made.

For people with a disability, such changes are often critical to their success. Although some of the adjustments might be different from those that work for other people, they accomplish the same goal — allowing qualified employees or students to do the best job they can. These strategies are often just good business or educational practices. Reasonable accommodations are those adjustments within a work or school site that allow an otherwise qualified employee or student with a disability to perform the tasks required.

Employers and educators are not expected to provide opportunities to those who cannot do what is necessary. The laws do not require them to lower the standards of performance or change the qualifications needed to gain entry into a job or school program. What they are expected to do is be flexible about the way the work gets done.

Employers and educators are required to provide reasonable accommodations under two separate laws: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued Enforcement Guidance on the ADA and Psychiatric Disability.

Learn more: What laws require that reasonable accommodations be provided?


Reasonable Accommodations for People with Psychiatric or Mental Health Conditions

It’s usually easy to tell what kind of accommodation someone with a physical disability needs. Someone who uses a wheelchair needs a higher desk. Someone with visual problems needs to receive all written material in large print. But since psychiatric and mental health conditions are often invisible, it can be hard to tell what will help a person with a psychiatric condition do his or her job better.

The first step in identifying the accommodations you need is to know the demands of the job or coursework in an educational program. The second step is to figure out your “functional limitations” — that is, how your condition may make it hard for you to meet those demands. For example, your symptoms or the side effects of your medication may cause problems with memory, concentration, relating to others, managing or experiencing emotions, or organizing and managing your time.

Learn more: How might my psychiatric or mental health conditions affect my work performance?

Learn more: How do mental health and psychiatric conditions interfere with performance in educational settings?

Effective accommodations include changes in schedules, instructions, job tasks or other procedures, and ways the instructor interacts with you. Not all of these accommodations will work for everyone; each situation should be taken on an individual basis. Many people with psychiatric conditions may not need accommodations of any kind.

Learn more: What accommodations work on the job?

Learn more:What Accommodations Support School Performance?



Psychiatric or Mental Health Conditions

These conditions describe a variety of psychiatric or mental health problems that vary in intensity and duration, and may recur from time to time. Psychiatric conditions become disabling when they interfere significantly with a person’s ability to work, learn, think, care for oneself, or interact with others. Psychiatric or mental health conditions are not a brain injury or mental retardation. Disclosing Your Disability gives examples of common conditions, “plain English” examples of terms used to describe these conditions, and links to other resources for more information.


Benefits of Reasonable Accommodations

In our lifetimes, one in four of us will know someone who has experienced a psychiatric or mental health condition – a family member, friend, neighbor, employee, manager, student, or teacher. Many talented people have made significant contributions despite having had a psychiatric condition: President Abraham Lincoln, writer Ernest Hemingway, actress Patty Duke, Senator Thomas Eagleton, artist Vincent Van Gogh, scientist Isaac Newton, athlete Lionel Aldridge, and businessman Ted Turner, to name a few, have accomplished many things in spite of having a psychiatric or mental health condition.

Reasonable accommodations may help you return to work or school from disability or medical leave sooner. Costs for treatment of may be reduced the sooner one returns to a productive role, and many people want to become productive again. For employers, the costs for providing accommodations are fairly inexpensive. The Job Accommodation Network has information about the cost of providing accommodations and suggests that there is a great return on investment in undertaking accommodations.

Often, these adjustments — flexible schedules, time off for medical appointments, or changes in communication, feedback and/or supervision — are not much different from the changes available to any employee or student. They can benefit everyone, not just the employee with a disability.

Source: Job Accommodation Network (

Note: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations.