“Accommodating Every Body”

In a new journal article in the University of Chicago Law Review, a group of law professors argue that the ADA’s reasonable accommodation framework should became a standard feature of all employment discrimination claims, regardless of the extent of a person’s disability.

University of Chicago Sculpture
University of Chicago Sculpture

“Extending the (Americans with Disabilities Act’s) reasonable accommodation mandate to all work-capable members of the general population with impairments could enhance U.S. employment practice by normalizing the process of considering workplace accommodation as a workplace productivity enhancement tool,” the article states. “By eliminating the question of whether persons seeking accommodations are deserving of them (i.e., whether they have an impairment that is considered serious enough under the ADA), our proposal would change current workplace norms by encouraging employers to take accommodation requests more seriously and engage in good faith discussions about whether accommodations are warranted.”

As the journal’s authors see it, the ADA’s promise has been undercut by the court’s continued emphasis on distinguishing between who is eligible for the law’s protections. Instead, the authors propose that this threshold question be eliminated altogether, thus allowing any employee to request a reasonable accommodation. Accordingly, the burden would switch to the employer to argue that the requested accommodation represents an undue hardship, and thus is unreasonable.

In addition, the authors argue that this change would greatly benefit multiple population segments not currently covered by the ADA, like the elderly and pregnant women. For people with disabilities, the change would destigmatize the experience of requesting reasonable accommodations and bring fulfillment to the ADA’s goal of promoting equality of opportunity for employees with disabilities.

“This Article proposes to predicate provision of accommodations on their effectiveness in elevating functionality, instead of on recipients’ group identity status,” the article states. “An ‘effectiveness’ standard would be satisfied if the accommodation was needed by an individual to fulfill the same essential job functions required of others, but would not be satisfied if the accommodation served only to make performing those same essential functions easier than for other people.”

The article’s authors are Michael Ashley Stein, Anita Silvers, Bradley Areheart and Leslie Pickering Francis.

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