Working With A Disability OR ADA Employment Provisions Overview and Resources
By Michael Paravagna, M.S.

A disability often impacts a person’s ability to work because it involves certain losses of function or efficiency. For some, it limits the amount or type of work, and for others, it leaves them unable to work at all.

Part of accepting a disability is making adjustments for it. On the work front, it’s important that you consider how to alter your job to accommodate your disability. This can be an educational opportunity for you and your employer. You must also acknowledge that there may be tasks that will no longer be realistic, given your disability and will require some creative modification.

The first step is rethinking the definition of work. Work can involve many tasks like lifting, carrying and typing. We often define work by the method employed to perform the job, rather than the outcome of the task or activity. The employee who lifts and carries is moving an object, and the employee who uses a keyboard is either creating a document or entering data. While a person with a disability may now be challenged with lifting and carrying objects, or typing, he/she may with “reasonable accommodation” now be able to lift or carry the object with the aid of a device and the employee who is challenged with using a keyboard may be able to use voice activated software.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) states that a qualified person with a disability may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • A record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such impairment.

To be a “qualified” person with a disability, one must possess the qualifications for the job in question and must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

This process is not complete until the definition of “essential functions” is in place. A function could be essential if:

  • The position exists to perform the function
  • There are a limited number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the function can be distributed; or

A function is highly specialized, and the person in the position is hired for special expertise or ability to perform it.

To learn more about the types of evidence that may be considered in the determination of essential functions, visit

When the essential functions of the job have been defined and the impact of the worker’s impairment on them is understood, a problem solving process between the employee and employer must take place. This is often referred to as the “interactive process”.

This dialogue between the employer and the employee is often referred to as the "interactive process." The objective of the interactive process is to find a means by which a disabled employee can perform the essential functions of a job in the employer's workplace.

  • First, the employer learns that a disability is impacting the work situation. Generally, this is in the form of the employee or applicant disclosing the issue
  • Second, the person with the disability and the employer brainstorm ways to mitigate the barrier. Medical information may be obtained as needed; the Jobs Accommodations Network may be consulted or experts may be called upon. For example, a cashier having trouble picking up change from the change drawer may suggest, as a solution to be explored, the adoption of an automated change dispenser and a coin counter for incoming change.
  • In the third step, the employer, having given primary consideration to the input of the person with the disability, will select an effective accommodation, which does not result in an undue hardship.
  • In the fourth step, the accommodation is put in place.
  • The fifth step is follow up to ensure the accommodation is successful. Here we ask, “Did it work?”

The interactive process can be used for three different categories of reasonable accommodation:

  • To enable an employee to perform the essential functions of their job
  • To enable a candidate for employment the opportunity to compete for a position, or
  • To provide an employee with access to the benefits and privileges of the position they hold that are equivalent to the benefits and privileges their colleagues in the same work setting enjoy.

The ADA is not designed to create an advantage; rather, it is a system to create a level playing field.  Should the proposed reasonable accommodation result in an undue hardship for the employer because it is too costly, extensive, disruptive or would fundamentally alter the operation, the employer would not be responsible for providing the accommodation.  Each disability case is unique; hence, it is important to talk through the disability with your health care providers, physical therapist, and employer to determine which tasks are realistic for this kind of modification, and which tasks are not reasonable, given the presence of a disability.

For information about disability resources visit:

Written by Michael Paravagna, M.S., Citywide ADA Coordinator with the City of Sacramento, this feature is the second in a series of article featuring, “Neuropathy: A Chronic Illness, A Disability.”



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