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Occupation and Industry: Accommodating Nurses with Disabilities

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How many nurses with disabilities are working today?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly three million registered nursing jobs in the United States in 2016. The Department of Labor has predicted that the number of nurses in the workforce will grow by 15% in the next 10 years, which is much faster than average. If disabilities affect one-fifth of all Americans (Census Bureau, 2012), then close to 600,000 registered nurses could be in need of job accommodations. This number doesn't include nurse practitioners, midwives, anesthetists, and licenses practical and vocational nurses and nursing assistants. 

With the high standards nurses are held to, along with the myriad skills they are required to master and the tasks they accomplish on a daily basis, those in the nursing profession 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 nurses 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 nurses 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 nurses with cognitive, motor, and sensory impairments. The following provides an overview of accommodation ideas that may be helpful: 

Limitations and accommodation ideas specific to the nursing environment include: 

Difficulty Lifting or Transferring Patients

Use of One Hand

Maintaining Clean Technique for Nurses Who use Wheelchairs

  • Wash and dry hands, apply two pairs of clean gloves, and maneuver to area
  • Remove exterior pair of gloves
  • Use a strap or belt to secure self in chair when leaning forward to assess patient, perform wound care, etc. 

Monitoring Vital Signs

Monitoring Vital Signs

Difficulties with Documentation

Memory Deficits

Difficulties with Focus and Time Management

 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 Nurses