Getting what you need to perform at your best
What is an accommodation?
As a veteran with a disability, you can still get the job done. But you might need to do it a little differently. That is, you might need to do it with an accommodation. The official definition of accommodation is “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” Accommodations can be provided during the application process, while performing the work, and to ensure you can access the perks of the job.
A right, not a special favor
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees the right of all applicants and employees with disabilities to use a reasonable accommodation that enables them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. An accommodation is a right. It is not a special favor granted only to preferred workers. It is not cheating. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a way to ensure that you can perform at your best when working with a disability.
A few examples
Consider how these veterans have used job accommodations:
- A customer service technician with traumatic brain injury uses reminder software to help her track customer interactions.
- A police officer with PTSI leaves work early one afternoon a week to attend treatment.
- A dental hygienist with a mobility disability uses a special chair when working with patients.
- A security guard with a lung condition from a burn injury uses a golf cart while on patrol.
- A logistics technician with a hand amputation uses speech-to-text software to create reports.
- An archivist who uses a wheelchair can’t retrieve materials from high shelves. So, she exchanged her high-shelf work for data entry tasks with a co-worker.
Who pays? Who decides?
Employers must provide accommodations unless this causes undue hardship. The employer pays for accommodations and makes the final decision about which accommodation will be used. The employer must make a good faith effort to use an accommodation that enables the worker to perform the job task effectively. Part of that good faith effort involves interacting with the employee to get their input on what they need. That’s why it makes sense for you to consider your accommodation needs before starting work.
Thinking it through…What accommodation is right for you?
Be prepared. Each person, each job, and each disability or functional limitation is different. Think through these points to consider what accommodations you might need for jobs in your chosen career:
- Focus on the main tasks (the legal term is essential functions) for jobs in your chosen career.
- Which main task(s) might be affected by your disability or functional limitation?
- How would each main task be affected?
- What change(s) in equipment, facilities, schedules, or work environment would help you perform your main tasks better?
- Visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) to explore possible accommodations.
You can use the Veteran’s Career Planner Workbook to integrate these concerns with your plan.
Not an accommodation
Here are some examples of what an employer is NOT required to do to accommodate an employee:
- Provide things used outside the job, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or medications.
- Change established productivity standards, safety standards, or codes of conduct.
- Eliminate an essential job function—one that is central to the purpose of the job, such as driving for a truck driver or caring for patients for a nurse.
- Tolerate alcohol or illegal drug use on the job.
Accommodations of last resort
Some accommodations are better than others. Whenever possible, try to get an accommodation that keeps you engaged in the job as much as possible. Accommodations such as work-leave and re-assignment can be used if needed. But these accommodations should be used only as a last resort. Work leave and job reassignment are disruptive and will remove you from daily life and social connections in the workplace. When possible, try to get an accommodation that will keep you involved with the job, such as changing work equipment or location, changing a work schedule, taking more breaks and making up the time later, exchanging marginal functions (non-essential job tasks) with another worker, or using assistive technologies.
Getting an accommodation
If you need an accommodation, just ask. You don’t need to use any special terms. In most workplaces, you start the accommodation process by telling your supervisor or human resources representative that you have a disability that impacts your job performance. Each workplace has its own accommodation process, so what happens next will depend on the process in your workplace. You should hear back from your employer about next steps. Sometimes, the employer will ask you to provide medical information that confirms your disability and that might be needed to determine an effective accommodation. This information will be kept confidential.
But what will everyone think?
Veterans with disabilities might be afraid to ask for an accommodation because they’re worried about what others will think. Or they’re worried about keeping their job and getting promotions. Or they just don’t want to appear weak. These fears are understandable, particularly for veterans who are new to disability. But consider this. It’s very likely that others in your workplace use an accommodation, but you’re not aware of it. You can’t be fired for requesting or using a reasonable accommodation. Also, your co-workers will not be told about your disability. Finally, according to research, most co-workers have positive views of colleagues who use an accommodation.
 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (2002). Enforcement guidance on reasonable accommodation and undue hardship under the ADA. (link goes to the General Principles section, where the definition of accommodation from Title I of the ADA is quoted in the first paragraph)
 Schur, L., Nishii, L. H., Adya, M., Kruse, D., Bruyère, S. M., & Blanck, P. (2016). Accommodating employees with and without disabilities [Electronic version].