What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A Reasonable Accommodation is an adjustment to a job or work site that enables an otherwise qualified disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the position.

  • An individual with a disability is defined as having a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities.
  • A qualified individual with a disability means with respect to employment, an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position in question.
  • To determine what is "reasonable", consideration must be made of the specific disability, existing limitations to perform the particular job, the critical elements of the job, and the work environment.

In determining if the employee has a disabling condition, Center for Disability Services (CDS) evaluates the evidence in terms of the following concepts: "Impairment," "Major Life Activities" and "Substantially Limits."

Impairment is a physiological or mental disorder affecting one or more body systems. For the impairment to rise to the level of a disability, it must substantially limit major life activities.

Major Life Activities includes walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working. When impairment substantially limits "working" it generally limits the individual in other major life activities.

Substantially Limits is a comparative term that implies a degree of severity and duration. An extensive analysis must be made as to the extent to which an impairment restricts a specific individual’s activities, i.e. the determination of disability is not necessarily based on the name or diagnosis of the impairment, but rather on the effect the impairment has on the life activities of the individual.

A mild or borderline case may affect major life activities, but does not substantially restrict those activities.

Transitory conditions, which last only a few weeks or months (broken bones, sprains, recovery from injury) are not, considered disabilities. Even the necessity of surgery, without additional evidence, is not sufficient to raise a short-term condition to the level of a disability.

What Accommodations Are Available?
The need for reasonable accommodation is always determined on a case-by-case basis.

Accommodations may be simple (moving a desk away from a window) or complex (providing a computer workstation with speech output and a refreshable Braille display). Some employees with disabilities will not require any accommodations.

Accommodations, which can be granted at the local level, include such things as rearranging files or shelves for accessibility to wheelchair users, maintaining hazard-free pathways for blind or mobility impaired employees, adjusting work schedules and restructuring jobs.

Examples of accommodations which must be approved by CDS are requests for readers, sign-language interpreters, personal assistants, adaptive devices which cost more than $100 and specialized training in the use of adaptive computer devices.

How is it Requested:
Requests for reasonable accommodation should be submitted to the immediate supervisor using the request for Reasonable Accommodation form SSA-501, the Reasonable Accommodation Wizard, or a memo. (Note, if the equipment being requested is from the Assistive Technologies contract, please see the Assistive Technology and Adaptive Devices page instructions.)

The immediate supervisor must evaluate the request under the following reasonable accommodation guidelines, which are contained in the definition of reasonable accommodation:
1. Is the employee a qualified disabled person?
2. Is the accommodation needed for the employee to do the essential functions of the position? and
3. What effects will the accommodation have on the Agency’s operations and on the employee’s performance, i.e. is it reasonable?

Decisions to approve or deny reasonable accommodation requests should be made at the lowest possible level within the component, since those closest to the situation will generally be able to make sound judgments about the need for accommodation.

The regions/components have the authority to designate the level of management approval needed for requests that do not involve purchases from the centralized SSA expense account.

SSA expense account, i.e. requests for readers, interpreters, personal assistants and assistive devices that cost in excess of $100, should be forwarded to CDS, at the Office of Personnel Management.

CDS will review these requests for accuracy, content and justification and to determine if the accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential duties of the position. In most cases, CDS will require medical proof of disability to make these determinations.

Evidence of a disabling condition:
If the disabling condition is not readily apparent (e.g. amputation of one limb), medical evidence must be submitted which shows a physician’s diagnosis based on objective clinical/laboratory evidence (e.g. EMG/NCV studies, X-rays, MRI, etc.) rather than on the patient’s subjective complaints. Records should be provided which show the course of treatment followed, the patient’s limitations, and prescribed medications. Surgical records with a post-operative prognosis should be submitted, if applicable.

Workers’ Compensation and the Rehabilitation Act:

An approved workers’ compensation claim is not proof that the employee has a disabling condition which requires reasonable accommodation. The purpose of the Workers’ Compensation law is to provide prompt and fair settlement of employees’ claims against employers to compensate employees who are injured or become ill in the course of employment. Employees may sustain an injury on the job, which qualifies as a "disability" under state law; yet, the medical problem might not qualify under the Rehabilitation Act as a physiological or mental impairment, which substantially limits a major life activity.

Hardship transfer requests must go through your Area Director and follow the proper guidelines.

Reassignment as the last resort:
For a reassignment to be granted, the following two conditions must be met:
1. The losing and gaining components must agree that the request meets the hardship definition. Hardship is defined as a set of circumstances that are so severe that they jeopardize the employee’s or his/her family’s health or financial security. Hardship transfers are the exception rather than the rule. It is the last possible option.

2. The gaining component must determine that the individual can be accommodated in the location to which the employee wants to be reassigned. Whether the individual can be accommodated is dependent on a number of factors including, but not limited to, a vacant position, the service delivery needs of the office, and whether space and equipment are available. 

Reasonable Accommodations