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Program for Individuals with Disabilities 

What Is Reasonable Accommodation?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, protects qualified employees and applicants with disabilities in the Executive Branch of the Federal government from employment discrimination based on disability. In 1992, the substantive employment standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 12111, et seq., were made applicable to the Federal Government through the Rehabilitation Act. The amended law requires Federal employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities. It requires Federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental limitations of qualified employees and applicants, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. The law also ensures equal access to Federal programs, activities, and facilities to people with disabilities.

In addition, Executive Order 13164, issued on July 26, 2000, requires Federal agencies to develop written procedures for providing reasonable accommodation. Contact the agency personnel office, reasonable accommodation coordinator, civil rights office, or EEO office to request a copy of a particular agency's written procedures.

This section addresses reasonable accommodation and provides links to guidance, resources, and best practices.

Who an individual with a disability?

An individual with a disability:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities;
  • has a record of such an impairment; or
  • is regarded as having such impairment.

What is a major life activity?

A life activity is a function that the average person in the general can perform with little or no difficulty. Major life activities activities such as caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, speaking, learning, sitting, standing, lifting, reaching, and working.

Who is a qualified individual with a disability?

A individual with a disability has the skills, experience, education, and other requirements of the job the individual holds or desires, and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

What if the disability is not obvious?

When the disability and/or the need for accommodation are not obvious, the employer may ask the individual for reasonable documentation about his/her disability and functional limitations. An employer should respond expeditiously to a request for reasonable accommodation.

What an undue hardship?

An agency is not required to make an accommodation if it can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its everyday operations. An undue hardship is an action that requires "significant difficulty or expense" in relation to:

  • overall size of the agency’s program with respect to the number of employees, number and type of facilities and size of budget;
  • type of operation, including the composition and structure of the agency’s workforce; and
  • nature and cost of the accommodation.

What is reasonable accommodation?

The term "reasonable accommodation" is a term of art that Congress defined only through examples of changes or modifications to be made, or items to be provided, to a qualified individual with a disability. A reasonable accommodation is adapting the job site or job functions for a qualified person with a disability to enable an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. This does not mean that the employer must lower the standards of work for the position or change the job requirements. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • Modifications or adjustments to a job application process to permit an individual with a disability to be considered for a job (such as providing application forms in alternative formats like large print or Braille);
  • Modifications or adjustments necessary to enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job (such as providing sign language interpreters); and
  • Modifications or adjustments that enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as removing physical barriers in an office cafeteria).

What examples of a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations that can be requested include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • making existing facilities accessible;
  • restructuring the job;
  • utilizing part-time or modified work schedules;
  • adjusting or modifying tests, training materials, or policies;
  • providing qualified readers and interpreters;
  • acquiring or modifying equipment; and
  • reassigning an individual to a vacant position for which the employee must be qualified.

Can an accommodation involve readers, interpreters, and/or personal assistants?

Agencies may employ personal assistants for employees with disabilities, including those with visual and hearing impairments, under authority provided by 5 U.S.C. 3102. In addition, Section 31 02(d) of the law authorizes the payment of pay and allowances for an individual who accompanies an employee with a disability on official travel. Specifically, the statute provides that the head of an agency may authorize the payment to an individual to accompany or assist (or both) the employee with a disability for all or a portion of the travel period involved. The statute further provides that the accompanying individual shall be considered an employee, but only for purposes of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act. Accordingly, 5 U.S.C. Section 3110, which provides that a public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance or advocate for a relative (as defined in the section), does not prohibit pay to an accompanying spouse.

How can an individual request a reasonable accommodation?

An individual can make either an oral or written request for accommodation. To request an accommodation, an individual does not need to mention the Rehabilitation Act or "reasonable accommodation." A family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment. The request for a reasonable accommodation must be made in relation to a medical disability.

What if the request is denied?

All denials of reasonable accommodation requests must be made in writing, and the decision must specify the reason for the denial. The denial should be written in plain language, clearly stating the specific reasons for the denial. After denying a request, the individual must be informed that she has the right to file an EEO complaint, has the right to pursue any applicable Union grievance and informal alternative dispute resolution.

What are an individual's responsibilities?

Employees applicants with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation are responsible for making their needs known to the appropriate official. Supervisors are responsible for properly responding to requests for accommodation from their employees. When an individual decides to request accommodation, the individual or his/her representative must let the employer know that they need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition.

The employer and the individual with a disability should engage in an informal process to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.

How is a reasonable accommodation decision made?

Decisions on making accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis. Executive Order 16134, however, requires each Federal agency to establish effective written procedures to facilitate the provision of reasonable accommodation for applicants and employees. Contact specific agencies for information on their decision-making process.

What about alternative accommodations?

An individual who is granted a reasonable accommodation might not receive the exact form of accommodation requested. The deciding official has the discretion to identify reasonable and appropriate alternatives.

If you have questions in relation to reasonable accommodations, please contact the White Sands Program for Individuals with Disabilities Manager at 678-2831/1291.

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Reasonable Accommodation Process

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.

Essential Functions:

The essential functions of a job are those duties that are so fundamental to the position that the individual cannot do the job without being able to perform them.

  • A disability is a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; the individual has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.
  • A reasonable accommodation is a change involving the workplace that enables a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her position.
  • An undue hardship means that a specific accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense to the Agency.

Procedures for Requesting an Accommodation:

The following procedures should be followed to initiate a request for medical accommodation:

  • Contact the EEO Office, 678-1291/2831 to initiate process (employee or supervisor)
  • Employee provides medical documentation to EEO Office
    • It is the employee's responsibility to provide appropriate medical information related to the functional impairment at issue and the requested accommodation.
    • The Agency has the right to request relevant supplemental medical information if the information submitted does not clearly explain the nature of the disability or the need for the accommodation, or does not otherwise clarify how the requested accommodation will assist the employee to perform the essential functions of the job or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of the workplace.
    • The agency has the right to have medical information reviewed by a medical expert of the agency's choosing at the Agency's expense.
    • Medical documentation includes but is not limited to, the following information:
      • The nature, severity, and duration of the individual's impairment;
      • The activity or activities that the impairment limits;
      • The extent to which the impairment limits the individual's ability to perform the activities, and/or
      • Why the individual requires reasonable accommodation or the particular reasonable accommodation requested, as well as how the reasonable accommodation will assist the individual to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, or enjoy a benefit of the workplace.
  • Manager/supervisor provides Certificate of Medical Examination, Form SF78 to EEO Office

    The EEO Office will administer the accommodation process. A final decision on the request for reasonable accommodation will be provided by the Director of the employee's organization.

    If the agency cannot make reasonable accommodation, the employee may be eligible for Disability Retirement or may be separated from Federal service.

    Duration of a Reasonable Accommodation:

    Reasonable accommodation due to a medical disability can remain in effect until such time as the accommodation is determined to be no longer necessary by a medical professional in consultation with management. As turnover of supervisors occurs, the incoming supervisor should comply with the specified accommodations. An accommodated employee should keep his/her supervisor informed of their approved accommodations as turnover of supervisory personnel occurs.

    Typical Process Outline

    • Employee requests medical accommodations or indicates he/she is unable to perform essential duties of position due to medical reasons.
    • Employee contacts their supervisor, EEO Office, CPAC Office and/or Occupational Health.
    • EEO Office administers accommodation process.
    • EEO Office works with management and the employee to obtain appropriate documentation (i.e. medical documentation, job description, SF 78, etc).
    • EEO Office submits documentation to Occupational Health.
    • White Sands McAfee Health Clinic, Occupational Health makes medical accommodation recommendation.
    • CPAC Office coordinates recommendation with management.
    • Management makes determination as to whether reasonable accommodation can be made.
    • Can reasonable accommodation be made?
      1. If yes, management implements.
      2. If no, employee may apply for medical retirement or may be separated from service.

    If you have questions in relation to reasonable accommodations, please contact the White Sands Program for Individuals with Disabilities Manager at 678-2831/1291.

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    Reasonable Accommodate Process for Long—Term Accommodations

    • Employee requests medical accommodations or indicates he/she is unable to perform essential duties of position due to medical reasons.
    • Employee contact source options.
    • EEO administers accommodation process.
    • EEO work with Management and Employees to obtain appropriate documentation, i.e., medical documentation, job description, SF78.
    • EEO submits documentation to Occupational Health.
    • Occupational Health makes medical accommodation recommendation.
    • EEO coordinates recommendation with Management
    • Management makes determination as to whether reasonable accommodation can be made.
    • Can reasonable accommodation be made?
      • If yes, Management implements.
      • If no, employee may apply for medical retirement or may be separated.
    Reasonable Accommodation Process Flow Chart.
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    CAP: Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program

    The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, Federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. CAP increases access to information and works to remove barriers to employment opportunities by eliminating the costs of assistive technology and accommodation solutions.

    The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness established CAP in 1990 as the centrally funded reasonable accommodations program for employees with disabilities in the DoD. Following the National Defense Authorization Act of October 2000, Congress granted CAP the authority to provide assistive technology, devices, and services free of charge to Federal agencies that have a partnership agreement with CAP. The TRICARE Management Activity, a field activity in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), serves as the executive agent for CAP.

    The organization's mission is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to the information environment and opportunities in the Department of Defense (DoD) and throughout the Federal government. By fulfilling this mission of providing real solutions for real needs, CAP is helping to make the Federal government the model employer for people with disabilities.

    Much of CAP's success lies in the organizations ability to provide reasonable accommodations to employees quickly and easily, increasing employment and retention of employees with disabilities. Examples of assistance are computer keyboards, monitors; hearing devices, etc.

    CAP is aligned with the Federal government to implement a wide range of Executive Orders through various initiatives that increase representation and access for people with disabilities. For more than 15 years, CAP has developed, refined, and implemented initiatives to:

    Advance Federal employers' knowledge of the challenges facing people with disabilities.

    Improve employees' accessibility options and working conditions.

    Cultivate an atmosphere where people with disabilities have easy access to information and employment opportunities.

    The current CAP initiatives available to our customers include

    CAP's mission to provide real solutions for real needs is, in part, attained by helping the Federal government become the model employer for people with disabilities. Working closely with the Federal agencies, CAP assists in the recruitment, placement, promotion, and retention of people with disabilities.

    CAP provides technical assistance, training, and accommodations that improve program access as defined by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability in Federally funded and Federally conducted programs or activities, including employment program

    CAP provides Federal agencies with system accessibility training and guidance, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and enterprise-wide services, which requires Federal agencies to ensure that the information technology they develop, procure, maintain, or use is accessible to people with disabilities - both employees and members of the public.

    If you are in need of assistance through the CAP program, please contact the Program for Individuals with Disabilities Manager, EEO Office, 678-2831/1291.

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    Last modified on: 12/8/2010 9:28 AM 
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