Alternative Modes Of Communication May Be Considered A Reasonable Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), provides that disability discrimination is illegal. Specifically, the ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with a disability” regarding terms and conditions of employment, retaliation against employees who complain about discrimination, or participating in someone else’s discrimination lawsuit.

Whether someone is considered a “qualified individual with a disability” is a legal definition and depends on whether you have a condition that substantially limits a major life activity. If you fall within this definition, then the ADA requires that your employer make an effort to “reasonably accommodate your disability.” This may be some simple such as changing your start time or providing an alternate workspace. An employer is not required to make all requested accommodations, only those that are reasonable, i.e. – they are not required to make changes that are excessive or burdensome.

Whether specific accommodations are considered reasonable is determined on a case-by-case basis.

In EEOC v. Hibbing Taconite Co., the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota reviewed whether a mining company was required to make reasonable accommodations so that a hearing-impaired applicant – James Edstrom – could obtain a job at an open pit mine. The mining company asserted that it failed to hire Edstrom because he could not perform the essential functions of working at the mine as a result of his hearing impairment and inability to use a workplace radio.

In response, Edstrom provided evidence of accommodations made for him at past mine jobs that allowed for adequate communication and a safe environment. These accommodations included the use of radio, hand signals, eye contact, horn use, and written contact. The court determined that a triable issue of fact existed, and denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that a jury could find that these forms of communication, along with texting, constituted “reasonable accommodations” required under the ADA.

If you have a condition limiting a “major life activity” the ADA may require your employer to make an effort to “reasonably accommodate” your disability. This may include allowing you an earlier or later start time, adjustments to your modes of communication, or minor adjustments to your work environment. For more information, or if you have questions regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, please contact Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP, a Georgia law firm dedicated to protecting employee’s rights.