Why employers don’t understand how accommodations help them

Photo: Robin Jerstad /San Antonio Express-News | Juan Alonzo-Miranda, who won the first service dog jury trial in the United States, with his service dog Goldie.

It happens again and again. Employers, when they receive a request for accommodation, demand answers to questions. Lots of questions, but seldom do they ask one simple question: why do you need an accommodation? Instead, these employers utilize Soviet-style forms, with check boxes and demands for medical proof, even when the employer knows about the worker’s disability. This is against the law.

As I assist veterans and others with disabilities, I find that these employers have been good at ensnaring these individuals in a process that’s doomed to failure. They make the worker show how damaged they are, by identifying “life activities” that are “substantially limited” in doing. They demand more and more medical records and so called “proof” that an accommodation is some sort of medical treatment for a condition. These forms don’t even inform the worker or recognize that an accommodation isn’t a treatment; it’s nothing more than some sort of action to allow a worker with a disability to enjoy and experience their job the way that their colleagues who don’t have disabilities enjoy and experience their job.

Some of the biggest companies, even federal agencies, will not accommodate a worker unless the worker admits that he or she cannot perform the job without an accommodation. Many veterans with war induced PTSD can do the job, albeit with the grief and pain associated with flashbacks, and when they ask for an accommodation to lessen those symptoms, they are blocked. They are doomed for saying that they can work without an accommodation and doomed by their own positive evaluations. That’s not right, and not lawful. Former veteran and former Chief Judge of the D.C. federal courts, Royce Lamberth made it clear that accommodations do more than help worker with a job task; they help alleviate the symptoms of a disability.

And the more employers understand that these workers are among the most productive and loyal, the better off they will be.

The progress in sensitizing employers to the benefits of working with talented workers with disabilities is one that is slow but inevitable, but only if we keep pushing, educating and talking.