The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. The term accommodations might sound intimidating. But a workplace accommodation could be as simple as a change in a meeting room. Or a flexible schedule on Tuesdays.
Accommodations aren’t special treatment. They simply level the playing field so employees can do their best work.
Plus, accommodations are generally cheap and easy to implement. And they can have a huge impact on employee performance and satisfaction.
Explore four common types of workplace accommodations and examples of each.
Visual communication supports
Breaking written information into smaller chunks can help all employees — with and without disabilities. Here are some supports that may be especially helpful to people who struggle with reading or attention:
- Written instructions with short, clear steps
- Pictures, photos, or videos that show how to do an important task
- Email or texts so people can review information and use read-aloud tools if needed
- Visual reminders posted in physical and virtual workstations
- Checklists to help structure the steps in a given task
- Progress bar or other visuals to show an employee is getting closer to finishing a task
- Slide decks that use visuals to help employees understand and remember information shared in meetings
- Bulletin board and/or an online hub that makes it easy to find important information
- Dry-erase boards and/or virtual whiteboards for notes during meetings
Language and communication supports
Small changes can make a big difference for employees who struggle with language or communication. Many of these ideas can help streamline work for everyone.
- Daily or weekly huddles to ensure that each team member is aligned and focused on goals
- Written agendas shared before a meeting or conversation
- Clear expectations on things like whether to ask questions throughout a presentation or at the end
- Ample time to respond, like waiting several seconds after asking “Any questions?”
- Background noise kept to a minimum, especially during meetings
- Emails that recap important meetings, including a video recording, if possible
- Acronyms and other jargon explained in person or in meeting notes
- Mentors and/or job coaches to support interactions or to help teach new tasks
That bright fluorescent light may not be a big deal to you. But it might be a big distraction to your light-sensitive co-worker. Changes to the work environment can help people be more productive.
Here are some examples:
- Shades for bright or fluorescent lights to reduce distraction and eye strain
- Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs
- Ergonomic workstations, including the flexibility to sit or stand as needed
- Floor pads for employees who need to stand frequently
- Wheelchair-accessible workplaces, including bathrooms.
- Safety signs in the workplace, including handwashing diagrams in the bathrooms
- Masks, social distancing, and other precautions to protect against COVID-19
- Remote work options
When each team member has the support they need to reach their goals, the whole team thrives. Structural tools can help everyone. But these kinds of supports can be especially helpful to employees who have trouble with organization or who need frequent breaks to stay on task.
Here are some examples:
- Flexible break times, like the option to turn a 15-minute break into three five-minute breaks
- Clear goals and metrics, including examples of how to achieve them
- Breaking down large tasks into smaller steps
- Visual demonstration of how to start a task and what it should look like at the end
- Daily schedules and/or ideas on how to structure work time to be more productive
- Multiple formats for trainings and other important information, such as video, text-based, in-person meetings, etc.
- Accessible meetings, such as closed captions or live transcription for videoconferences
These types of accommodations are common. Companies can put them into place without a formal request. And when they do, everyone can benefit from them.
Employees can also formally request a workplace accommodation. But it may not count as “reasonable” in every case.
- Explore FAQs about the ADA at work.
- Learn common myths about workplace accommodations.
- See guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on small employers and reasonable accommodations.
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About the author
About the author
Chris Simler is a workplace consultant with more than 20 years of experience managing and leading disability inclusion initiatives.
James Emmett, MS is the lead workplace strategist for Understood, supporting our efforts to create more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities.