The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer

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The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represents a landmark moment in the history of civil rights. As an employer, understanding and adhering to the ADA is not just a legal obligation. Adhering shows a commitment to inclusive employment practices that value diversity and equal opportunity.

This guide aims to provide a step-by-step understanding of your responsibilities under the ADA. It focuses on compliance and the essential steps to ensure your organization aligns with the law's requirements.

Understanding the ADA

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Public life is jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the public. As an employer, focus on Title I of the ADA, Title I deals with employment discrimination.

Who is Covered?

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It also includes individuals with a history of such an impairment or those perceived by others as having such an impairment.

Title I of the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.

Your Responsibilities as an Employer


You must not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in any aspect of employment. This includes hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Reasonable Accommodations:

ADA compliance requires providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless it would create significant difficulty or expense for the employer. Reasonable accommodations can include making workplace facilities accessible, modifying work schedules, or providing modified equipment, among other adjustments.

Let's look at some detailed examples of how to provide reasonable accommodations in a thoughtful and collaborative way. Remember: solutions should be tailored to the individual's specific needs, and include a process for ongoing evaluation and adjustment.

Example 1: Reasonable Accommodation for a Wheelchair User

Situation: Consider an employee, Jose, who uses a wheelchair and has recently joined an accounting firm. The office building is somewhat accessible, but Jose's workstation as well as some communal spaces are not optimally designed for wheelchair mobility.

Reasonable Accommodation:

  • Workstation Redesign: The firm could undertake specific modifications at Jose's workstation. One solution is to install an adjustable desk that Jose can raise or lower to accommodate his wheelchair. The adjustable desk ensures shelves and files are within his reach without needing to stand.
  • Accessible Amenities: Modify the restroom facilities to be wheelchair accessible. Install grab bars, an accessible toilet, and a sink at an appropriate height. Additionally, discuss, and make changes, to the cafeteria and meeting rooms to make them accessible without assistance.

    Interactive Process:

    Step 1: Jose notifies the HR department of the challenges he's facing in accessing various areas of the office and at his own workstation.

    Step 2: An HR representative meets with Jose at his workstation and tours other areas he uses to understand the barriers firsthand.

    Step 3: They discuss potential modifications, with Jose providing input on what changes would be most helpful. For instance, Jose suggests the type of adjustable desk that has worked for him in the past.

    Step 4: The firm evaluates costs and feasibility, consulting with a contractor experienced in ADA-compliant modifications.

    Step 5: The modifications are made, and HR checks back with Jose to ensure the changes meet his needs and make adjustments if necessary.

    Example 2: Reasonable Accommodation for an Employee with a Hearing Impairment

    Situation: Maria, an employee with a hearing impairment, finds it challenging to follow along in team meetings and group discussions. It is especially difficult for Maria when multiple people are speaking, or when there is background noise.

    Reasonable Accommodation:

    • Assistive Listening Devices: Provide Maria with advanced assistive listening devices that can filter background noise and amplify the speech she wants to hear. These devices could be paired with her existing hearing aid for better clarity.
    • Visual Support Tools: Implement real-time captioning services during meetings and presentations. Additionally, use visual aids more prominently in presentations and ensure all video content is captioned.
    • Meeting Protocols: Establish meeting protocols that include having participants speak one at a time. Have participants use a microphone system that directly connects to Maria's assistive listening device.

    Interactive Process:

    Step 1: Maria requests a meeting with her supervisor to discuss the difficulties she's experiencing during meetings and suggest possible accommodations.

    Step 2: The supervisor and Maria meet, possibly with a representative from HR, to discuss how her needs can be met. As a team, they explore various technologies and support tools. Maria chooses which ones she feels will be most effective based on her experience.

    Step 3: The employer investigates the recommended solutions, consulting with vendors and checking with other organizations for best practices.

    Step 4: The employer acquires and implements the chosen technology and adjustments. They also provide training for staff on the new meeting protocols to ensure everyone is aware and compliant.

    Step 5: After a trial period, HR follows up with Maria. They assess the effectiveness of the accommodations and make any necessary tweaks or additions.

    Job Descriptions and Advertisements:

    Ensure job descriptions focus on the essential functions of the job and do not inadvertently exclude people with disabilities. Similarly, job advertisements should not discourage people with disabilities from applying.


    Recruitment processes should be accessible and inclusive. Ensure that your interview locations are accessible and that your hiring processes do not discriminate against people with disabilities.

    Medical Examinations and Inquiries:

    The ADA restricts the circumstances under which you can ask job applicants or employees about their health or disability. Generally, you cannot ask about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. However, you can ask about their ability to perform specific job functions.


    Employees must keep any medical information obtained in the context of the employment relationship confidential, with limited exceptions.

    Training and Awareness:

    Make sure to train your management and HR staff in ADA compliance. They need to know how to apply these practices in your workplace.

    Implementing ADA Best Practices

    Conduct an ADA Audit:

    Evaluate your current policies, procedures, and practices to ensure they comply with the ADA. This includes reviewing your recruitment processes, accommodation practices, and accessibility of your facilities.

    Develop an Accommodation Process:

    Create a clear process for employees to request accommodations, and ensure they are aware of this process. Engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine appropriate accommodations.

    Foster an Inclusive Culture:

    Promote a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity. Encourage open communication and provide training to all employees about the importance of ADA compliance and disability awareness.

    Stay Informed:

    ADA regulations can evolve, so it's crucial to stay informed about any changes in the law or relevant guidance. Consider consulting with legal experts specializing in employment law to ensure ongoing compliance.


    Complying with the ADA is not just about avoiding legal pitfalls. Compliance is about fostering an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace. All employees deserve the opportunity to thrive in their work, in your company.

    Remember, the journey toward full ADA compliance is ongoing. It requires vigilance, commitment, and a proactive approach to inclusivity and accessibility. Embracing your responsibilities under the ADA sets a standard for excellence and respect. It shows that all employees, regardless of disability, when given the opportunity, can contribute to their fullest potential.