Tips on the Americans with Disabilities Act

The University of Iowa's commitment to diversity fuels the challenge of providing quality educational and occupational opportunities for everyone. That challenge often means making reasonable accommodations to provide people with disabilities the same opportunities as those provided to their nondisabled peers.

The following are often-asked questions concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Further questions may be addressed to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. The following Q & A is adapted from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

Q: Who qualifies as a disabled individual under the ADA?

A: The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  • has a record of such an impairment, or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Q: What practices and activities are covered by the employment nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA?

The ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices including job application procedures, hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities.

Q: Does an employer have to give preference to a qualified applicant with a disability over other applicants?

A: No. An employer is free to select the most qualified applicant available and to make decisions based on reasons unrelated to disability.

Q: What is "reasonable accommodation"?

A: Reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment 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.

Q: When is an accommodation unreasonable?

A: An employer is not required to implement any accommodation that would impose an undue hardship. An undue hardship is an action or accommodation that would require significant difficulty or expense in relation to the size of the employer. If it is found that a particular accommodation would impose an undue hardship, the employer must consider whether there are alternative accommodations that would not impose such hardship.

Q: What about health and safety standards?

A: The ADA permits employers to establish qualification standards that exclude individuals who pose a direct threat—i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm—to the health or safety of the individual or of others, if that risk cannot be eliminated or reduced below the level of a "direct threat" by reasonable accommodation.

The employer must establish through objective, medically supportable methods that there is significant risk that substantial harm could occur in the workplace. The ADA recognizes the need to balance the interests of people with disabilities with the legitimate interests of employers in maintaining a safe workplace. That goal is realized by requiring employers to make individualized judgments based on reliable medical or other objective evidence rather than on generalizations, ignorance, fear, patronizing attitudes, or stereotypes.

Q: What about performance standards?

A: In the performance of essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodations, an employer can hold employees with disabilities to the same standards of production/performance as other similarly-situated employees without disabilities.

Revised October 1996