An agency must reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless it can show the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its operations. 29 CFR 1630.9. Although federal employees are protected by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the standards applied are the same as those applied under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. 29 CFR 1614.203(b).

Because employment law relating to individuals with disabilities can be complicated, it's important for managers to address the issues surrounding reasonable accommodation in a logical manner. This Checklist Plus+ allows you to guide managers through a step-by-step approach when they consider a request for reasonable accommodation.

The speed of the accommodation process depends on the circumstances of the case. A simple and obvious accommodation that requires no equipment, planning or cost should be available to an individual with a disability soon after it is requested. With regard to more complex accommodations, the key is diligence.

If an agency works with good faith and perseverance to achieve reasonable accommodation within a reasonable period of time, it should avoid a finding of liability for disability discrimination. An agency that drags its feet and makes only half-hearted attempts to achieve reasonable accommodation could be found liable for disability discrimination, including an award of compensatory damages, which could be quite high, depending on the complainant's evidence of pain and emotional distress.


Command Policy Memorandums

Command Policy # 2 - Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity

Command Policy Memorandum - Reasonable Accommodations and Personal Assistance Services Policy for Individuals with Disabilities



Click here to Request Reasonable Accommodation. Complete and email this form to the Equal Employment Office at .


You may work through the steps of this Checklist Plus+ in the order presented or use the summary of steps below to link directly to those areas that most interest you.

Summary of Steps

1. Determine if the person is an individual with a disability.
2. Determine if the person is a qualified individual with a disability.
3. Consult with the individual about specific needs and consider accommodation possibilities.
4. Determine if the preferred accommodation is an undue hardship.
5. If it is not an undue hardship, implement the accommodation.
6. Determine whether the accommodation chosen is effective.

1. Determine if the person is an individual with a disability.

An individual with a disability is one who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities.
  • Has a record of having an impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities.
  • Or is regarded as having an impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities. 29 CFR 1630.2 (g).

"Substantially limits" and "major life activity" are both terms of art that have been defined by regulation and case law. Except in the case of readily apparent disabilities, such as blindness, agencies should not make assumptions about whether or not individuals have disabilities. Instead, if an individual makes a request for reasonable accommodation, and the extent and impact of the claimed impairment are not obvious, an agency should promptly consider the following two questions. If the answer to both is "yes," the agency should move on to the next step in the analysis.

Question 1: Does the individual have an impairment?

An impairment, according to the EEOC, is:

  • Any physiological disorder, or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.
  • Any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. 29 CFR 1630.2(h).

The appendix to the regulation adds this explanatory guidance:

It is important to distinguish between conditions that are impairments and physical, psychological, environmental, cultural and economic characteristics that are not impairments. The definition of the term "impairment" does not include physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, left-handedness, or height, weight or muscle tone that are within "normal" range and are not the result of a physiological disorder. The definition, likewise, does not include characteristic predisposition to illness or disease. Other conditions, such as pregnancy, that are not the result of a physiological disorder are also not impairments. Similarly, the definition does not include common personality traits such as poor judgment or a quick temper where these are not symptoms of a mental or psychological disorder. Environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantages such as poverty, lack of education or a prison record are not impairments. Advanced age, in and of itself, is also not an impairment. However, various medical conditions commonly associated with age, such as hearing loss, osteoporosis, or arthritis would constitute impairments within the meaning of this part. 29 CFR App. 1630.2(h).

EEOC regulations state that "temporary, non-chronic impairments of short duration, with little or no long term or permanent impact, are usually not disabilities." 29 CFR App. 1630.2(j) ). However, the EEOC also has indicated that an impairment does not have to be permanent in order to be considered a disability for the purposes of Rehabilitation Act protection. Conditions that are long-term, or of an indefinite duration, can constitute disabilities if they are so severe that they substantially limit a major life activity.