How to ask for ADA health accommodations at your job, according to 5 workers who have
- The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide accommodations to employees who need them.
- Despite these legal protections, employees can still face challenges when accessing accommodations.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" for employees who need them. The ADA defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," so a range of health conditions may be included. Whether or not someone chooses to disclose details about their health to an employer is generally their choice, though some employers may require letters from medical providers for some accommodations requests.
Despite these legal protections, disability discrimination in the workplace is not rare. Resources like the Job Accommodation Network may be helpful in navigating this process, and Insider recently asked five people to share advice on how they successfully accessed accommodations at work.
Alaina L., collection development specialist at a nonprofit organization, Massachusetts
Alaina's job involves making reading materials accessible to disabled readers. She's autistic and has a genetic connective-tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which results in chronic pain and fatigue.
Alaina works best remotely, with a flexible schedule. "I struggle greatly in open office settings or any office where there are distractions from coworkers, music playing over the loudspeaker, or bright lights," she said.
Alaina was approved for accommodations from her current employer, but has been denied in the past. She recommends being prepared for any outcome and identifying a support system "who can remind you it isn't personal … if you are denied." She also suggests finding a medical provider who is "disability friendly" and inquiring about documentation for accommodations early.
"You never know when you might need documentation," she said. "It's better to know in advance [that] you are already working with someone who can offer it."
Dawn Gibson, writer, community organizer, consultant, and founder of #SpoonieChat, Michigan
Dawn Gibson is a disabled arthritis patient who experiences chronic pain, fatigue, and reduced range of motion, along with other life-altering symptoms. Those symptoms make it difficult for her to work in the morning, sit still for long periods of time, or wear restrictive clothing or high-heels. Instead, Gibson prefers to work from bed or a recliner, usually in a hoodie and yoga pants.
"Conferences can be an issue, because … some events will be early," she said. "I let everyone know that I won't ever be at breakfast."
Gibson recommends that other disabled people navigating similar needs ask for professional dress-code guidelines in writing, and seek advice from peers at work and in chronic illness communities. She says occupational therapists and individual disease or diagnosis foundations may also be able to provide advice.
When talking to employers, Dawn encourages people to "explain that you do want to get your work done, and that working with your body will make that happen."
Myk Bilokonsky, engineering manager at Mode Analytics, New York
For most of his life, Bilokonsky needed accommodations to fulfill obligations — turning in papers late, taking sick days, and preferring digital communications — but he didn't think of them as accommodations until he realized he was autistic.
"I just thought they were shameful character flaws that demonstrated that I was lazy and unreliable," Bilokonsky said.
In his current job, Bilokonsky works closely with his managers to arrange a schedule that allows him to work flexible hours and skip optional meetings, "reducing Zoom fatigue and letting me focus on things that don't drain me." Bilokonsky said broaching these conversations can be "really tricky."
As a white man with a successful tech career, Bilokonsky knows his experience accessing accommodations may be unusual.
"I have friends who don't share my privileged demographics, and disclosure has been a mixed bag for them," Bilokonsky said. In an effort to support similar accommodations in other workplace environments, Bilokonsky has created a series of resources to help employers create autistic-friendly workplaces and manage disabled reports.
April Thompson, director of marketing and sales at Bloom Soil, Washington DC
Thompson lives with a complex chronic illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis, often abbreviated as ME/CFS. Thompson experiences episodic periods of worsened health and fatigue that sometimes require her to work from home for extended periods of time and avoid physical activity.
When she applied for her current job, Thompson decided to disclose her illness during the interview. She said it's helped prepare employers for future health issues that may come up, and it allows her to vet potential employers.
"If someone would not want me as their employee as a result of my chronic illness, I don't want to work there," Thompson said, while noting that disclosing can be dangerous given disability discrimination.
Her advice is to "know exactly what your rights are going into [the conversation]."
Christina Miller, junior literary agent, New York
Since middle school, Miller has been living with what she now knows is endometriosis. During her menstrual period, she typically experiences fever, severe cramping, vomiting, back pain, and other flu-like symptoms for at least 24 hours, making it impossible to work.
At Miller's last job, she wasn't allowed time off for her chronic illness. Because of that, Miller was initially nervous to request accommodations at her new job.
"It's kind of like a TMI conversation," she said. "Periods … no one talks about it."
Miller decided to approach a colleague she was friendly with before going to her direct manager. She recommends this as a first step for others who are nervous about broaching these conversations.
"Start at a lower level," she said. "Everyone has a work bestie, and they're always good to bounce ideas off of."
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