Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with 15 or more employees are legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers. A reasonable accommodation is something that helps the worker perform his or her job, such as a specific tool or a change in hours, but does not impede the business – for example, by causing undue financial hardship to the employer, says Saralynn Allaire, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Research shows the majority of effective accommodations are no-cost or less than $500 – such as a different desk chair or keyboard, or voice recognition software. To ask for an accommodation follow these guidelines.
See your physician. Your doctor must diagnose you as having a disability. Chances are, if you have limited mobility, significant pain or other moderate to severe arthritis symptoms, you qualify. “People shy from the term ‘disabled,’ but it gives you legal rights,” notes James M. Herzog, a New York-based occupational therapist who specializes in return-to-work issues. (Note that this is not the same as qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance, which requires a diagnosis specifying that you cannot work.)
Contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). “JAN is a free, confidential and personalized service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor,” says Beth Loy, a principal consultant at JAN. “We help educate people about the Americans with Disabilities Act, brainstorm about what accommodations may help them perform their job better and help them request changes from their employers.”
Boost your odds. Put your request in writing and take it to your direct supervisor; if you receive resistance, consider going to human resources. “Focus on how your request will help your employer – for example, by increasing your productivity and helping you bring even better results,” says Herzog. “Research shows that many workplace changes actually make the environment more functional for all employees,” he adds. “For example, replacing door knobs with door levers makes doors easier for everyone to open.”
Get a second opinion. If your employer denies your request and you suspect you are being discriminated against, contact JAN or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination, settles charges and files lawsuits against employers on behalf of people who have been discriminated against because of a disability, race, religion or age – meaning it can act on your behalf so you don’t have to face a discriminatory employer on your own.