First Things First: Essentials of the ADA/ADAAA Interactive Process

Before diving into the interactive process for managing requests for accommodations, it’s helpful to have a clear understanding of some the key terms and phrases used in the ADA/ADAAA.

Key Definitions

What is the ADA?

The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities. Signed into law in 1990, it guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else with regard to employment opportunities, buying goods and services, and participating in state and local government programs and services. (

What is the ADAAA?

Signed into law in 2008, the ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act) broadened the definition of what qualifies as a disability. (

What companies must comply with the ADA/ADAAA?

The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. (

What is the definition of a disability under the ADA/ADAAA?

The law defines a qualifying disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability.” (

What defines a “reasonable accommodation”?

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or the way things are customarily done that enables a person with a qualifying disability to enjoy equal employment and workplace opportunities.

Reasonable accommodation applies to all aspects of employment from applying, doing the job, benefits of the job, and even termination. Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to qualifying employees or applicants. ( and

What are the types of accommodations?

Some people with disabilities face physical barriers that make it difficult to get into and around a worksite. Others may be excluded or limited by the way people communicate with each other (e.g., if someone is deaf or visually impaired). Other people are excluded because of rigid work schedules with no flexibility for people with needs caused by disability. Types of reasonable accommodations exist to address these and other situations.

  • Job restructuring
  • Leave
  • Modified or part-time schedlies
  • Modified workplace policies (i.e., eating at desk)
  • Assistive technology
  • Reassignment
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