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Distinguishing Essential Requirements through Procedural Accommodation

In our last article, we discussed how employers, landlords, and service providers must ensure that people receive accommodations to perform essential duties or requirements. Accommodating essential requirements means distinguishing the most vital parts of a job, a service, or being a tenant. In this article, we will explore how employers, landlords, and service providers can distinguish essential requirements of a job or service from non-essential requirements, through procedural accommodation.

Distinguishing Essential Requirements through Procedural Accommodation

When employers, landlords, and service providers decide that a person cannot perform essential requirements, this decision must be factual. In other words, employers, landlords, and service providers cannot rely on stereotypes or stigma about people with disabilities. Instead, they must rely on procedural accommodation to assess whether a person can perform essential requirements.

For example, an employer might assume that a worker who is deaf could not be a department manager. The employer may base this assumption on the belief that a person who is deaf could not perform the essential requirement of frequent communication with workers they supervise. However, through procedural accommodation, the employer could recognize that this worker can communicate easily with accommodations, such as:

  • Consulting with colleagues through text, email, pen-and-paper notes, or speechreading
  • Sign language interpretation at meetings or presentations

As a result, the employer may consider the worker as a possible candidate for promotion to the manager role.

Determining Whether a Requirement is Essential

On the other hand, accommodation providers may sometimes have reason not to accommodate a worker, tenant, or client. For example, an employer is not required to hire a worker who cannot perform job tasks that are truly essential. However, the employer must first prove that the job tasks are essential, and that accommodation is not possible.

For instance, a school board may be reluctant to hire a teacher with a physical disability. The school board might argue that the applicant could not perform essential teaching tasks, such as:

  • Moving through the classroom, including:
    • Through narrow aisles
    • Around temporary obstacles
  • Supervising students:

Using Procedural Accommodation

The school board must prove that each of these tasks is an essential part of teaching. Then, the school board must show that no accommodations would allow the applicant to perform these essential functions. In other words, the school board must use procedural accommodation to assess whether they can meet the applicant’s needs.

For instance, the school board may state that moving through the classroom is essential to teaching. The teacher must be able to access all materials in the room, or observe students as they work. As a result, the school board must then assess whether they can accommodate the applicant in performing this essential task. For example, the school board could place the candidate in a classroom large enough to maintain wide aisles between desks and other furniture.

Similarly, the school board may state that supervising students at lunch, at recess, or on field trips is essential. Therefore, the school board must then assess ways to accommodate the candidate in performing these functions of the job. For instance, if the cafeteria and school yard are not accessible, the teacher could exchange tasks with colleagues by taking responsibility for before-school or after-school activities indoors. Similarly, the school board can ensure accessible transportation to field trip locations, and ensure that these locations are also accessible. Alternatively, the candidate could arrange to exchange classrooms during the field trip, and teach a colleague’s class while the colleague supervises the group on the trip.

Accommodating essential requirements ensures that employers and workers, landlords and tenants, service providers and clients clearly understand what they need from each other. Furthermore, all people involved in the accommodation process can work together to find out how they can support each other in work and daily life.