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Americans with Disabilities Act

What is a Disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability as someone who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, hearing, learning, and working);
  • Has a history of such an impairment or;
  • Is regarded as having such impairment.

Remember that not all disabilities are visible or readily apparent. Physical or mental conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, low vision, and learning disabilities like dyslexia, can also present significant barriers to employment.

What is the ADA?
The ADA is a law that makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications.

The law was enacted to eliminate barriers that have kept people with disabilities from participating fully in the richness of community life, including work. The employment provisions of the ADA are intended to bring persons with disabilities into the mainstream of the American work place.

What are the employment provisions of the ADA?
The ADA prohibits discrimination against all qualified people with disabilities in all areas of employment including job applications, hiring, training, dismissal, and compensation.

What is meant by a qualified person with a disability?
A qualified employee or job applicant is someone who meets the employer`s objective requirements for the job (usually found in a job description) and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job.

A guiding principle behind ADA is to focus on the job seeker`s abilities and qualifications, not his or her disability. The ADA levels the playing field so that all employees and applicants are judged according to the same objective standards.

What is reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that allows the person with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to workplace benefits available to applicants and employees without disabilities.

Examples of reasonable accommodation are changing a work schedule, making existing facilities accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, making written training materials available in an alternate format (such as an audio tape), providing additional unpaid leave, and acquiring assistive technology equipment or devices.

What about cost?
The most commonly requested accommodation is not a piece of expensive equipment or architectural change--It’s a change in work schedule. And there are resources for more costly accommodations. Employer tax credits may pay for making existing facilities accessible, and State-Federal Vocational Rehabilitation dollars may purchase assistive technology that qualified job candidates need.

When an accommodation would cause an employer significant difficulty or expense, it is considered an undue hardship. Factors such as business size, financial resources, and the nature of the business operation are taken into account when determining undue hardship.

Why should companies make reasonable accommodation?
Forward-thinking companies view people with disabilities as potential customers as well as potential employees. When facilities and workplaces are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, businesses increase their pool of qualified job candidates and their customer base.

When should employers and job seekers discuss reasonable accommodation?
The job seeker may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the recruiting process or after being hired. If the job seeker thinks an accommodation for the application process or the job will be needed, they should let the employer know.

Employers may ask applicants up front if they need an accommodation for the recruitment process, for example a sign language interpreter for the job interview. Employers can also ask applicants if they are able to perform a job function with or without reasonable accommodation.

When deciding upon an accommodation, the employer should always consult the person with the disability. Frequently the individual can suggest a simpler change or adjustment based on his or her life experience than the employer might be considering.

How should a job seeker request an accommodation?
The job interview is an opportunity to showcase and emphasize abilities and talents. When asked about an ability to perform a job function, candidates can mention accommodations that they use or need to successfully complete projects, job tasks, or routine assignments.


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