Opening Doors for Work

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Employment Supports & Accommodations:  Emerging & Promising Practices

Accessible Information Technology
A new initiative of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the ADA & IT Technical Assistance Centers provide technical assistance about accessible information technology and the impact on employment of people with disabilities. Information technology in the workplace includes but is not limited to such items as telephones, fax and copy machines, computers, Web sites, multimedia, and e-mail.
For more information, contact:
(800) 949-4232 (V/TTY)

Accessible The purpose of is to build a partnership between the disability and business communities to promote full and unrestricted participation in society for persons with disabilities through the promotion of technology that is accessible to all.

DBTACS (Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers)
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has established ten regional centers to provide information, training, and technical assistance to employers, people with disabilities, and other entities with responsibilities under the ADA. The centers act as a "one-stop" comprehensive resource on ADA issues in employment, public services, public accommodations, and communications. Each center works closely with local business, disability, governmental, rehabilitation, and other professional networks to provide ADA information and assistance, placing special emphasis on meeting the needs of small businesses.
For more information, contact:
(800) 949-4232 (V/TTY)


Success in the workplace for a student with a disability often depends on the availability and effectiveness of accommodations and supports. These accommodations and supports ensure that you have full access to the workplace, and are successful in performing the necessary job tasks.

There have been advances in the identifying and applying accommodations and supports that enable you, with all manner of disability to successfully perform in the workplace. These advances include assistive technology and methods, including, but not limited to:

  • assistive devices
  • alternative and augmentative communication strategies
  • architectural modifications
  • telecommuting
  • re-structured job assignments
  • mentors and coaches
  • flex time and other scheduling accommodations, and
  • employee assistance and other employer human resource management programs

These advances, along with legal protections from discrimination available through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have created an environment in which job seekers with disabilities can better promote their job qualifications and advocate for necessary accommodations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an accommodation or employment support?
An accommodation or employment support is an adjustment that is made to ensure that you have access to the workplace and can successfully perform job tasks. Workplace accommodations and supports range in their level of complexity from simply raising a desk so that a wheelchair can fit under it, to more advanced assistive technology. Typical employment supports or accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • physical accessibility (e.g., installing ramps, lowering desks)
  • job restructuring
  • modified work schedules and flex time (e.g., telecommuting)
  • acquisition or modification of equipment or devices (e.g., TTY, low vision readers)
  • computer software and adaptations; and
  • availability of qualified readers or interpreters

A workplace accommodation or support may also include the assistance of a workplace mentor or employment specialist. A workplace mentor typically is an employee who possesses the skills and knowledge to be mastered by another employee, and who instructs that employee on the tasks.

Employment specialists, job coaches, or supported employment also offer training and support to individuals requiring more attention than that provided by a workplace mentor. They also provide support to employers and other co-workers, so that they can comfortably and confidently interact with employees who have disabilities. Unlike a workplace mentor, job coaches are not usually employees of the company, rather they come from an agency outside of the workplace, such as a school transition program or employment agency.

How should accommodations or employment supports be identified and provided for a work-based learning experience?
The first and most obvious place to start is with each the student. Review what accommodations he/she have used in the classroom and community and what works best. Ask family members for accommodation solutions, especially if the student is inexperienced in the workplace or having difficulty clearly communicating their support needs.

Teachers and other professionals who have worked with the student can also provide important information about accommodations the student needs. Finally, employers, schools, and students should work cooperatively to find reasonable solutions in meeting the unique needs for you in different work settings. You and each situation is unique.

What is the relationship between employment supports or accommodations and a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP)?
Work-based experiences are important in improving the post-school outcomes of youth with disabilities. These experiences help define the type of accommodations and supports that students need to successfully participate in the workplace.
It is important for students with disabilities to have individualized supports so they can benefit from work-based learning experiences. This requires administrative commitment and expertise that includes an IEP with a transition statement that outlines the work experience. The determination and use of supports and accommodations should be discussed within the student’s IEP.

Who pays for an accommodation or employment support?
Circumstances dictate who pays for supports and accommodations. In unpaid work-based experiences, the school or agency coordinating the work-based experience may assume or share in the costs associated with the supports or accommodations. Should the student require or use assistive devices, the student and/or the school may have already acquired them, and if not, will jointly determine how they are acquired. IEP required supports are usually the school’s responsibility to provide. Occasionally the student’s family will have insurance coverage to pay for the devices.

At the worksite, the school or community agency should work with the employer to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations at the job site and to determine the financial responsibilities. In cases where the student is hired directly by the employer for a posted job, requirements by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations will apply, unless doing so would result in an "undue hardship" for the employer (see question below regarding legal requirements).

When undue hardship is indicated, employees are given the option of paying for the accommodation themselves or covering the cost of the portion that causes undue hardship. In the vast majority of work-based learning experiences, however, supports and accommodations are mutually negotiated between school or employment programs, the student, and the employer (see below for research on accommodation outcomes).

How much does it cost an employer to make an accommodation?
Employment supports and accommodations are usually inexpensive. In fact, the benefits to employers in providing support and accommodations when hiring a person with a disability typically outweigh the costs of accommodating them. The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) found that 80% of all supports and accommodations cost less than $500, with 31% of supports and accommodations made at no cost to the employer.

Are there legal requirements related to workplace accommodations?
Yes. As young people move out of work-based learning experiences and into more permanent paid employment, the accommodations or employment support they sometimes need is addressed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities be "qualified"; that is, they must satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and complete the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

It is the responsibility of the applicant or employee to inform their employer of a disability in which an accommodation is needed. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if they are unaware of such a need. Rather, every job candidate should be prepared to identify to an employer their strengths, skills, and accommodations requirements. Disclosure of a disability is a personal choice, however a discussion on relevant accommodations or alternative methods for completing the job tasks only takes place when needs are expressed to the employer. How to effectively advocate one’s strengths and disclose a disability can be "practiced" during a young person’s work-based learning experience.

When does the ADA require that an accommodation be made?
The ADA defines three circumstances in which an employer may be required to provide an employment support or accommodation:

  • When applying for a job to enable the person with a disability equal access to job opportunities;
  • While employed to enable the employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of their position or positions they desire;
  • Through the employee benefit package to enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of the employment.

Employers are required to offer support or accommodations to qualified employees who disclose that they have a disability and applicants with disabilities, unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship. An accommodation is considered an undue hardship if it is too costly, extensive, too substantial, or too disruptive.

Moreover, accommodations and supports should not only be provided to ensure equal access and full participation, but to facilitate the productivity of the person. If employers can see the benefit of an accommodation as opposed to looking solely at the disability, they are far more likely to make the accommodation available.

Do accommodations or employment supports have a negative impact on the other employees?
No. Research has found that accommodations made for an employee with a disability often lead to greater productivity of the overall company. Accommodations and modifications to the workplace are designed to remove barriers and to ensure that all employees can successfully complete their job tasks. These accommodations or employment supports are made in a non-discriminatory manner. In fact, accommodations or employment supports made for employees with disabilities typically are effectively adopted for other workers, contributing to greater productivity for the entire company.

This information has been provided by NCSET (National Center on Secondary Education and Transition)

For the best information on employer supports go to the JAN (Job Accommodation Network)

For additional websites go to NCSET