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From Student to Employee: The Essential Laws, Processes and Resources for People with Disabilities

The value of higher education is a hot topic right now, and the pressure on institutions to deliver on the promise of employability is unavoidable. The increasingly competitive job market demands thoughtful transition planning for students so they have the necessary tools for success in the workplace. For people with disabilities, this requires a thorough understanding of the workplace accommodation process, including relevant laws and regulations, essential job functions, Human Resources procedures, and relevant resources. This article provides a brief overview of the workplace accommodation landscape to help kick off your professional development in this space.

Laws and Regulations

  • Title I of the ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities. The law applies to all employment related functions (hiring, compensation, benefits, job termination, promotional opportunities). Applicable employers include any private or public company (including educational institutions, state/local government entities, employment organizations, and labor unions) with fifteen or more employees.

  • While there are many state and federal anti-discrimination laws that apply to applicants and employees with disabilities, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the primary guidance. We encourage all applicants and employees to also become familiar with any state specific laws and regulations that also apply.

Essential Job Functions and Reasonable Accommodations

  • According to the ADA, essential job functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation.

  • Title I of the ADA defines reasonable accommodations as a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done in the hiring process to enable a person with a disability the same opportunity to obtain employment and successfully perform the essential job functions as those without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations also include adjustments or modifications that enable access to the equal benefits and privileges of employment.

  • Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:

    • Physical changes

    • Assistive technologies

    • Policy modifications

    • Schedules modifications


  • The purpose of a job application and interview process is to identify the best candidate for the position. Disclose when necessary to access the application or interview process, or to request a reasonable accommodation to do an essential job function.

  • If a disability is visible or obvious, someone may wish to address it during the interview process. In these cases, it can help to put it in the context of essential job functions. For example, I use a mobility device. I have full use of my arms and hands and will not have any difficulty drafting the documents, using the software programs, or driving to sites. I may have difficulty standing for extended periods of time and it would be helpful if I can have access to a seat as needed while on a job site.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

  • Employee run groups that serve to encourage diverse and inclusive workplaces. Most companies will have ERGs for many different identity groups or special interests, including employees with disabilities. These can be an excellent source of support, community, and advocacy for people with disabilities navigating the workplace.


  • Job Accommodation Network (JAN, free network of experts for employers and individuals with disabilities inquiring about job accommodations and employment rights.

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, government agency responsible for enforcing laws that protect applicants and employees with disabilities from discrimination. Most employers with fifteen or more employees are subject to EEOC enforcement.

  • Access2Insiders ( Services for people with disabilities and higher education faculty, staff, and administration.

The workplace accommodation landscape is vast, and this article barely scratches the surface. However, it provides a general outline to guide your learning and highlight how the ADA applies to the employment sector. For more in-depth and customized training and consultation for your Disability Services and/or Career Services department, please reach out to Access2Insiders at


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