Self-Advocating at Work

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), workplaces must provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. Autism Spectrum Disorder is generally included as a disability covered under ADA. Yet, many autistic people struggle to ask for accommodations from their employers.

Why do autistic people flail in the face of accommodations requests? Ableism, stigma, and unclear ADA language. After all, what is a “reasonable” accommodation? Even more, if we state that we are autistic on job applications, how can we really be sure that employers will nondiscriminatory reach out for interviews?

While there is no simple solution to disability discrimination in the workplace, we can take a moment to consider what “reasonable” means in light of accommodations. By breaking down this term, we may feel more prepared to ask for accommodations and, hopefully, receive the support we need.

1) Reasonable means feasible. Any requested accommodation has to be within the actual ability of an organization’s control. For example, most companies can’t afford to replace fluorescent lights or put in new windows, but they can provide lamps for a single office.

2) Reasonable means specific. Most organizations respond better to clear ideas rather than vague requests. An employer might have no idea how to provide “social communication support.” Instead, try asking for a mentor, written instructions, and meeting agendas.

3) Reasonable means reimagining. So long as we have the skills and qualifications to complete a job correctly, a job assignment can be reorganized, and a workplace environment can be readjusted. Working from home, admitting service animals, and even reassigning an autistic people employee to a different, vacant position are all listed as reasonable accommodations according to the ADA.

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