Workplace Accommodations

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act employers are required to provide adjustments or modifications that enable you to enjoy equal employment opportunities. An accommodation is effective if it will provide an individual with an equal employment opportunity to participate in the application process, attain the same level of performance as co-workers in the same position, and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment available to all employees. It also includes those accommodations that are necessary to provide you with access to informal information communicated in the workplace, the opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored events (e.g., training, meetings, social events, award ceremonies), and the opportunity for professional advancement.  However, employers are not expected to provide any accommodations you request, or accommodations that would result in undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense) to the company. And of course employers should not assume that all persons with a hearing loss will require the same accommodation or even any accommodation at all.

What Can You Expect for Accommodation in the Workplace?

What accommodations may you ask for?

  • a sign language interpreter
  • a TTY, text telephone, voice carry-over telephone, or captioned telephone
  • appropriate emergency notification systems (e.g., strobe lighting on fire alarms or vibrating pagers)
  • written memos and notes (especially used for brief, simple, or routine communications)
  • work area adjustments (e.g., a desk away from a noisy area or near an emergency alarm with strobe lighting)
  • assistive computer software (e.g., net meetings, voice recognition software)
  • assistive listening devices (ALDs)
  • augmentative communication devices that allow users to communicate orally by typing words that are then translated to sign language or a simulated voice
  • communication access real-time translation (CART) or Speech to Text, which translates voice into text at real-time speeds
  • altering an employee’s marginal (i.e., non-essential) job functions
  • other modifications or adjustments that allow a qualified applicant or employee with a hearing loss to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Does an employer have to provide any accommodation that you ask for?

No. An employer has a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation that is effective to remove a barrier to your being successful on the job. Where two or more suggested accommodations are effective, primary consideration should be given to your preference, but the employer may choose the easier or less expensive one to provide.

Does an employer have to provide accommodations that would be too difficult or expensive?

No. An employer is not required to provide accommodations that would result in an undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense). If an employer determines that the cost of a reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship, he or she should consider whether some or all of the accommodation’s cost can be offset. For example, in some instances, state vocational rehabilitation agencies or disability organizations may be able to provide accommodations at little or no cost to the employer. There are also federal tax credits and deductions to help offset the cost of accommodations, and some states may offer similar incentives. However, an employer may not claim undue hardship solely because it is unable to obtain an accommodation at little or no cost or because it is ineligible for a tax credit or deduction.

Even if a particular accommodation would result in undue hardship, however, an employer should not assume that no accommodation is available. HE or she must consider whether there is another accommodation that could be provided without undue hardship.

Are there actions an employer is not required to take as reasonable accommodations?

Yes. An employer does not have to remove an essential job function (i.e., a fundamental job duty), lower production standards, or excuse violations of the rules of conduct on the job. Additionally, employers are not required to provide employees with personal use items, such as hearing aids or similar devices that are needed both on and off the job.

Can an employer require that you wear a hearing aid or any other assistive device?

No. The ADA does not require employers to ensure that you use an assistive hearing device. Nor may an employer deny you a reasonable accommodation because the employer believes that you did not do something to improve your hearing.

How should you request a reasonable accommodation?

You do not need to use any “magic words” (such as “ADA” or “reasonable accommodation”) to request accommodation. As an applicant or employee you simply have to inform your employer (verbally or in writing) that you need an adjustment or change in the workplace or in the way things are usually done because of your hearing loss.

A family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may also request a reasonable accommodation on your behalf. For example, you may submit a note from your doctor requesting a change in the location of your work area due to excessive noise that interferes with your hearing aid.

Your are not required to request an accommodation needed for the job at a particular time (e.g., during the application process), and an employer may not refuse to consider a request for accommodation because he or she believes the request should have been made earlier. However, it is a good idea for an individual with a hearing loss to request reasonable accommodation before performance or conduct problems occur.

For more information and examples, and links to additional resources go to: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/deafness.html#fn8