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Occupation and Industry: Accommodating Educators with Disabilities

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How many educators with disabilities are working today?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly four million educators, specifically teachers, working in preschool to secondary settings were employed in the United States in 2014. In addition, there were close to 1.3 million professionals who taught in post-secondary settings, ranging from four-year colleges and universities to technology and culinary schools in that same year (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). If disabilities affect one-fifth of all Americans (Census Bureau, 2012), then close to one million educators, from preschool teachers to post-secondary professors and instructors, could be in need of job accommodations.

With the high standards teachers are held to, along with the myriad skills they are required to master and the tasks they accomplish on a daily basis, teachers with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations to effectively perform their jobs. They may need accommodations related to cognitive, mental health, motor, sensory, and other disabilities.

Are educators with disabilities required to disclose their disability to their employers?

It depends. The ADA regulates when employers can ask medical questions of job applicants, new hires, and employees. During the application stage, employers are not allowed to ask medical questions and applicants are not required to disclose their disabilities unless they need an accommodation. Employers are required to provide accommodations for job applicants with disabilities to participate in the application process, but only if they know about the disability and need for accommodation (EEOC, 1992).

Once an employer makes a job offer, but before the new hire actually starts working, employers can ask any medical questions they want as long as they ask all new employees in the same job category the same questions. At this stage, the new hire must disclose a disability if asked (EEOC, 1992).  

Once working, employees only need to disclose their disabilities if they want to request an accommodation (EEOC, 1992). 

Can an employer ask educators with disabilities to submit to a medical examination?

Yes, if the need for the medical examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Disability-related inquiries and examinations of employees must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, 2005), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, a medical inquiry or examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity when:

  • an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or
  • an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition; or
  • an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation and the employee’s disability or need for accommodation is not known or obvious; or
  • required in positions that affect public safety, such as police and fire fighters.

Accommodation Ideas: 

Accommodations vary for educators with cognitive, motor, mental health, and sensory impairments. The following provides an overview of accommodation ideas that may be helpful: 

Limitations and accommodation ideas specific to educators include: 

Difficulty Lifting or Transferring Children

Difficulty Writing on Chalkboard

Allergies to Chalk

  • Overhead Projector
  • PC/Tablet Projector
  • Dry Erase Board with Low-Fume Dry Erase Markers
  • Large Tablet and Easel
  • Air Purifiers

 Additional Resources: 

Situations and Solutions:

The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.

Events Regarding Educators