Mental Health and Employment: Workplace Accommodations

By Andrew Lopez

I’ve known about the Americans With Disabilities Act for quite some time but didn’t think it applied to me with my mental health difficulties. It wasn’t until I reached my 30s that I realized that mental health diagnosis his account as federal really recognized disabilities. This is important because it means that myself and others with mental health diagnosis is were entitled to the same rights as others under ADA law. 

According to
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability just as other civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs.

A person with a disability is someone who:

-has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,

-has a history or record of such an impairment (such as cancer that is in remission), or

-is perceived by others as having such an impairment (such as a person who has scars from a severe burn).

If a person falls into any of these categories, the ADA protects them. Because the ADA is a law, and not a benefit program, you do not need to apply for coverage”

While this applies in many areas we are going to be talking today about title I which covers employment. Under this article in the law individuals are entitled to reasonable accommodations at the workplace. What this means is that as long as an individual can still reach the same outcomes as other employees they have a right to get modifications in the way they perform their job in order to accommodate for the challenges created by the disability. For somebody with a physical disability who uses a wheelchair this could be a ramp area for somebody with mental health challenges the accommodations vary greatly depending on the needs of the individual. These accommodations can be requested through writing or verbally however is recommended that they be done in writing to keep an official record in case their disputes. The term reasonable means that if the employer has to spend too much money or change the nature of the work that the position requires, the accommodation requested may not be reasonable and thus the employer does not have to make the accommodation in this situation. The employer employee has a right to negotiate about the accommodation to find something that’s mutually acceptable. Because this is a matter of law disputes are often resolved in courtrooms. Firing somebody for requesting accommodation is not legal. This is a very basic description and oversimplified. If you would like more information about the Americans with disability act title I please refer to the links seen at the end of the article.

I interviewed a member of the Chrysalis Consumer Advisory Committee named Amber Nelson. She offered to talk about her experience with requesting a reasonable accommodation. I asked her the following questions and got these responses.

How did you learn about ADA accommodations?

“When I requested help from the Dane County Division of Vocational Rehabilitation services I had a counselor who introduced me to the idea of accommodations under ADA law. This counselor is very helpful and helped me to get an accommodation.  At the time I was working as a cashier and the accommodation requested was a stool to help me work a long shift without having to stand the entire time.”

What was your experience like with accommodations before this situation?

“I was very often worried about getting fired. I felt that most of my jobs were imperiled by the challenges created by my mental health disability. Every single one of my previous jobs I had these concerns.

When I first requested reasonable accommodation it was initially denied and I almost lost my job.This was especially difficult as I felt my disability impaired my ability to make the request.At the time I was working for McDonald’s as a cashier.”

How did you go about getting the accommodation in this situation?

“I asked for my accommodation verbally. At this job at McDonald’s I requested taking breaks during my shift and the ability to take days off when needed.”

 Do you feel like your needs were met?

“Yes initially, but I ended up leaving this position because the pace of the job was too fast for me. I found another job at a moving company as a secretary and office assistant.”

What advice would you give to somebody looking to get accommodation for their job?

“I recommend talking to the general manager or another high up position at the company that you’re working for to set up a meeting to talk about the reasonable accommodation as my experience working with lower-level managers on this issue has been unsatisfactory.”

To learn more about the Americans With Disabilities Act and title I please check out the following resources:

Disability Rights Wisconsin:

Job Accommodation Network:


Access to Independence: