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Common Workplace Accommodations

At a Glance

In this blog post, we'll cover the most commonly requested accommodations for autistic and neurodivergent employees. 

If you are not familiar with the topic you may be envisioning costly or time-consuming efforts. However, many accommodations for autistic employees have little or no direct cost for the organization.

Commonly requested accommodations are important because ADA legally required accommodations are framed in terms of reasonableness. Because autistic people are protected under ADA, as long as an accommodation request is reasonable and the employee has disclosed their legally protected disability, organizations are legally required to comply.

Let's get into the realm of official workplace accommodations. If you're not familiar with the topic area and what is out there, at first glance, it seems like accommodations can be incredibly costly to an organization. However, this really isn't the case for the majority of accommodations. In fact, many accommodations for autistic employees have little or no direct cost for the organization.

Rather, the most costly accommodations we will recommend in this section are not directly for autistic employees, but rather training for managers to recognize when they are receiving an ADA request. In short, many commonly requested accommodations do not represent a significant cost to organizations and ensuring appropriate recognition of accommodation requests can help protect organizations from legal liability.

Commonly requested accommodations are important because ADA legally required accommodations are framed in terms of reasonableness. Because autistic people are protected under ADA, as long as an accommodation request is reasonable and the employee has disclosed their legally protected disability, organizations are legally required to comply.

The Job Accommodation Network provides an excellent list of potential accommodations under a variety of circumstances (seriously, check that link out!), but we will list some common examples below that an employee may request.

You may notice that many of these accommodations are also the kind of considerations that other workers without a legally protected status could benefit from.

When we say that normalizing accommodations across the workplace can be beneficial to the whole workplace, this is what we are talking about! 

If a neurotypical employee would feel better supported in their job having regular meetings on how they are doing or having a mentor or an alternate method of communication, accommodations are still a low-cost way to help that employee feel comfortable putting in their best job performance.

While some accommodations may be more closely tied to a particular disability and not likely to be requested by a lot of people, the normalization of accommodations across the office still benefits the office as a whole.

Workplace Mentors and/or Buddies

Recommended by JAN and the textbook Neurodiversity in the Workplace, a workplace mentor or buddy can be a great catch all method for monitoring on the job challenges. 

A mentor can imply a position of authority and support, while a buddy may represent a colleague who is a little easier to confide in. While theoretically this type of support could include an outside job coach, that will not necessarily be the case for every workspace or employee. 

The important thing is guaranteeing there will always be an ally available to assist with navigating day to day challenges.

The good news is that if someone volunteers for such a position, it’s hard for an organization to justify not doing it. The tougher news is that mentors or buddies may need to put in some additional work to be the type of responsive and supportive resource an autistic employee might need or request. 

But the good news again is that a mentor or buddy system does not have to be a single person, and interested individuals can work together to create a strong and responsive support network. Neurodiversity in the Workplace notes that many people express a greater willingness to help once they have a better understanding of their coworkers’ challenges and needs, so don’t underestimate the possibility!

Periods of Regular Performance Review

While the connotation of a performance review is to evaluate the work of an employee, this accommodation is primarily meant as an act of communication rather than judgment. 

Neurodiversity in the Workplace goes to great lengths to discuss the rightful fears of discrimination or isolation that autistic employees can feel in a workplace. When we talk about how some neurodivergent workers can fall into the “bad fit” category in non-accommodating workspaces, one prevailing issue that can go unaddressed is a lack of active communication from management.

Regular performance reviews offer a space to air any potential challenges that might need to be addressed but can also be highly reassuring when an employee is doing a great job. Open, honest, and active communication is something employees can lean on when they don’t feel certain of their place in the office “culture.”

Alternate Communication Methods

Some people have particular outlets of communication that work best for them, and “alternate communication methods” covers the variety of forms that communication can take. 

Unless someone can show that a particular accommodation is unnecessarily burdensome to the organization, there is little practical reason to deny a person who requests some form of this accommodation.

Additional Training Time

Some employees may require either additional time or slightly more focused training to feel comfortable in performing their job tasks to the best of their abilities. 

While some company cultures can be quite rigid about their training programs, it makes little sense to deny help to someone who actively requests more training for the purpose of doing their job. 

Additional training time could mean additional time during the initial training process, periodic refresher courses, or in some cases alternate learning materials.

Schedule Flexibility

This category encompasses different types of schedule related accommodations, including periodic breaks and modified break schedules. 

While some organizations may object to some forms of schedule flexibility, especially if they are dependent on particular hours of operation, these requests can be taken on a case-by-case basis and are unlikely to be particularly over the top.

Access to a Quiet or Low Sensory Input Space

In theory, such an accommodation could be costly if your organization has absolutely no existing space that could serve this function. 

In practice, many organizations have this type of accommodation already in the form of a room that is not in use all the time, or a quiet corner of the office, a low sensory input space, or access to personal cubicle spaces.

Remote Work (if Logistically Possible and “Reasonable”)

Depending on your workspace, remote work may not be practical to the function of your organization or it may simply be a contentious issue. 

Nonetheless it remains a potentially important accommodation for people who might face difficulties in a fully in-person work environment.

Including Accommodations in the Interview/ Onboarding Process

One great way for an organization to establish itself as committed to providing employee accommodations while destigmatizing accommodations from the very beginning is through the hiring process. You may well be aware that it is illegal to ask potential employees to disclose any disabilities they may have during the hiring process, but the same is not true of accommodations! 

Organizations who show a preparedness to fulfill accommodation requests during the interview process are showing a degree of flexibility with all potential employees and sending a clear message to autistic people and others with legally protected disabilities that you are a workplace that will welcome them and take them seriously.

Managerial Training

According to Neurodiversity in the Workplace, it is not uncommon for managers to unintentionally violate the ADA’s requirement for reasonable accommodations because they do not understand that their employee made a legal request until the company has been hit with a complaint. 

This is not a positive experience for company management or employees! Although training can represent a cost and is not a direct accommodation for a single employee, it is also a means of more broadly ensuring compliance with the law. 

If you are advocating for such a program, the compliance component of such a training is a huge point to argue in your favor.

Steering Committees to Ensure Best Practices

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have the momentum to propose a steering committee that can take a more active role in reviewing and monitoring your company’s policies to make sure they are delivering appropriate outcomes for employees who request accommodations in addition to general DEI practices. 

While this is a step beyond mere compliance, it is a great way for a major organization to show its commitment to an inclusive workplace and attract more talent from groups who might need to be more wary of how inclusive the places they apply really are.

A Note on Changing Policies

As we noted above, when it comes to changing official workplace policy, it often requires a compelling reason to spur movement from decisionmakers. In some environments you may find an opportunity to push a particular policy because the higher ups seem to be looking for those kinds of solutions in the moment. 

Other times you might need to convince them of the importance of even evaluating the issue, whether it’s avoiding potential negatives like legal liability or gaining potential positives like being able to work with a much wider talent pool when hiring. 

Other times still it might be necessary to gather a critical mass of coworkers to express support for a particular policy, just to make clear that this particular change needs to happen at this organization.

Our advice when it comes to trying to implement policy changes is first and foremost not to undermine your autistic coworkers and their goals. 

After that, it can be incredibly helpful to tailor your arguments toward company interests if that’s the best way to get the attention of decision-makers.

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