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Employment Process Employment Process

The ADA and Personnel Training

Original Date: 1996, 2001, 2011
Authorship History: This brochure was written by Susanne Bruyère in 1996, and updated in 2001. It was further updated in 2011 by Beth Reiter, an independent legal consultant, Ithaca, N.Y., with assistance from Sara Furguson, a Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute student research assistant.
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What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?


 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that extends the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and age to persons with disabilities. Be­cause the ADA covers all aspects of participation in society, such as employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications, its impact is felt in business organizations in multiple ways. Businesses are covered by the ADA both as employers and as providers of goods and services. It is therefore important that each business organization equip its employees for compliance with the ADA by providing appropriate information and personnel training on the ADA’s requirements, its relevance to the functioning of the organization as a whole, and the responsibilities of specific personnel.

Which personnel in our organization should receive ADA training?

 The impact of the ADA is broad. Everyone in your organization would find information and training on the ADA relevant to their jobs. General information could be useful to all employees, informing them of their rights and obligations under the ADA.

In the fall of 1998, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) partnered with Cornell University to conduct a survey of SHRM members.1 The purpose of this survey was to assess the ADA’s impact on HR practice since implementation, and one of the items studied was training conducted on the ADA. The survey asked respondents if their organizations’ employees had been trained in a number of ADA-related topics, including: non-discriminatory recruitment and hiring, the accommodation process, equal access in promotional opportunities and training, ac­commodation for mental health problems, defining essential job functions, confidenti­ality requirements of medical information, limitations and exclusions the ADA and other federal laws allow health plans to impose, non-discrimination in the disciplinary process or termination, conflict resolution in the ac­commodation process, disability awareness or sensitivity training, and interaction with other state and federal legislation. In nearly all of the areas, more than half of the respondents (813 SHRM members were interviewed) indi­cated their employees received training.

Employers should consider the best way to train their personnel so that they may benefit from ADA training both to ensure that their actions are in compliance with the ADA, and that they are properly responsive to persons with disabilities. Although all employees should receive some training, there are catego­ries of personnel that should be considered for specialized training. These include: training or staff development personnel; human resource development professionals; top management; middle managers; front line supervisors; line employees; union leadership and field repre­sentatives; benefits and compensation staff; safety and environmental health personnel; recruitment and job interviewing personnel; industrial/organizational psychologists or oth­er personnel doing pre-employment screening; organizational development personnel; ergo­nomic specialists; short and long-term disabil­ity managers; technology personnel; customer relations representatives; and receptionists and others who interact with the public.

1 Cornell University received funding for this research from the US Department of Education National Insti-tute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) as a Research and Demonstration Project (Grant No. H133A70005); and it worked with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH), and the Lewin Group. An Executive Summary is available on-line from Cornell University at

Which kinds of ADA information should be shared with these personnel?

All of your employees would benefit from some basic knowledge about the existence of the ADA and its requirements. More specific information should be directly relevant to the functioning of personnel in the job categories listed above, whose responsibilities might be impacted by the requirements of a particular provision of the ADA. The following are some examples of personnel training that can be considered and targeted to meet the unique information needs of personnel, dependent upon their job functioning:

  • Overall knowledge of all titles of the ADA
  • Knowledge specific to the ADA employ­ment provisions
  • Knowledge specific to the ADA public ac­commodations provisions
  • Employment pre-screening and applicant interviewing under the ADA
  • Medical, drug, and other testing under the ADA
  • Relationship between the ADA and other state and federal employment and non-discrimination legislation
  • Identifying essential job functions
  • Writing job descriptions that identify es­sential job functions
  • The reasonable accommodation process
  • General information regarding specific dis­abilities and possible accommodations
  • Job evaluation and compensation informa­tion for persons with disabilities
  • Career equity/promotional considerations for persons with disabilities
  • Re-skilling when disability occurs
  • Non-discriminatory performance apprais­als
  • Impact of the ADA on accommodation requirements in personnel training
  • Accessibility of information technology in the workplace
  • Data/record keeping on accommodations
  • Negotiation/conflict management in the reasonable accommodation process
  • The place of job coaching and/or support­ive employment in the reasonable accom­modation process
  • Customer relations with customers with disabilities

In training, selected topics, such as specific accommodations for persons with particular disabilities, may be best presented by cou­pling the information of an instructor familiar with the ADA with that of a professional with expertise on accommodation for such persons. Some examples of these professionals include ergonomists, physical or occupational thera­pists, rehabilitation counselors, supported employment specialists, mental health or drug and alcohol abuse therapist/counselors, or rehabilitation engineers.

Other topics that may not directly relate to the requirements of the ADA, but may support the intent of the ADA are training in such topics as: attitudes toward persons with a disability; disability as a facet of diversity; effective dis­ability management; prevention of disability through workplace safety; and effective re­cruitment of persons with disabilities.

The above list is not exhaustive, but repre­sentative of many content areas that can be considered for effective information sharing and staff development on the provisions of the ADA. Specific content should be targeted toward the job responsibilities of personnel receiving the training. The nature of the work itself and the kinds of work-related illnesses and disabilities that occur more often for a particular employer may determine the focus provided on accommodations for particular types of disabling conditions.

Where is a good place to start a training effort on the ADA?

As previously mentioned, personnel at all levels of an organization would benefit from ADA information and training. Respondents to the SHRM/Cornell survey indicated that top management commitment to training and nondiscrimination is the number one way to effectively reduce barriers in the employment and advancement of people with disabilities. It is important that any dissemination initia­tive on disability nondiscrimination and diver­sity be seen as a company-wide commitment for a real impact to occur.

In larger companies, where human resource professionals are chiefly responsible for em­ployee recruitment, interviewing, pre-employ­ment screening, benefits, compensation, and training, the human resources department may be the appropriate place to focus initial information dissemination and training ef­forts. It would also be useful to include em­ployee and labor relations personnel in this round of training.

Manager training should come next in larger companies (and perhaps would be first in smaller companies). Some of the topics on the ADA employment provisions, which can be targeted to the information needs of supervi­sors, are as follows: pre-employment screening and ADA requirements; medical, drug, and other testing; writing job descriptions with es­sential job functions; the reasonable accommo­dation process; performance expectations and the person with a disability; and equal access for persons with disabilities to staff develop­ment and promotional opportunities.

What are factors to consider for accessibility of training to persons with disabilities?

The employment provisions of the ADA provide that no employer shall discriminate against an individual with a disability in regard to job training. This means that per­sonnel trainers, to meet the accommodation needs of a trainee with a disability, would be required to provide a reasonable accommo­dation absent undue hardship. Examples of possible modifications include:

  • Restructuring or simplifying training for mats to accommodate trainees with cognitive impairments
  • Making training rooms wheelchair accessible
  • Brailling or audio taping print materials
  • Providing a sign language interpreter or reader
  • Captioning videotape materials
  • Being aware of environmental irritants for chemically sensitive trainees
  • Advocating on behalf of a trainee for training held elsewhere, when an accommodations needed for that individual

Trainers also might consider use of informa­tion technologies and other distance learning approaches, which are increasingly being used for personnel training. This can be a real asset for enhanced easy and cost-effective access to training, allowing the user to access the class­room from his/her own office or home. How­ever, the transformation of the Internet from a text-based medium to a robust multi-media environment has created a growing digital divide in access for people with disabilities. Previously, people with visual impairments were able to read web pages with the help of audible screen readers. Today, graphical web pages are a barrier if they do not incorporate accessible web design. The barrier created by inaccessible web pages is not limited to people with visual and mobility disabilities, but ap­plies also to persons with learning or cognitive disabilities. Similarly, persons with hearing impairments cannot access audio or video streaming contents unless they are captioned.1

Designing accessible on-line training can be beneficial to more than just employees with disabilities; many other employees will also find it more user-friendly. Some “do’s and don’ts” regarding IT access for people with disabilities include:

  • when using a PDF format that is not translatable by screen readers2 (for persons with visual impairments), provide a text-only alternative;
  • use alt-tags and labels to denote graphics/ pictures;
  • avoid the use of frames;
  • avoid the use of Flash and javascript.


1 The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative site has a list of tools for website evaluation tools at WAI/ER/tools/
2 Go to for an example of how a screen reader works.

Are there other related training responsibilities to consider?

Under the ADA, covered entities cannot use a third party to discriminate on their behalf. Thus, employers may have to consider the possible ADA information needs of organi­zations with which they have contractual relationships, such as insurance companies, third-party administrators of worker compen­sation or health care benefits, labor unions, or employee assistance programs.

ADA Title I prohibits discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability in all terms, conditions, and privileges of employ­ment, including health benefits. The ADA specifically prohibits a covered entity from participating in a discriminatory contractual or other arrangement with any organization that provides fringe benefits to employees.

Where employees are represented by a union, the union steward is the person in the union with whom each member may have direct contact; that is, to whom s/he brings his/ her problems and grievances, from whom s/ he gets information, and who s/he generally sees every day on the job. Management and the union should provide the shop steward with training so that s/he can help dissemi­nate ADA information. In particular, the shop steward should be aware of the union's role in informing the workforce about the prohibi­tions against disability discrimination in em­ployment and about the remedy of reasonable accommodation.

A number of ADA employment provisions are relevant to the functioning of Employee As­sistance Program (EAP) professionals. Since EAPs have developed, they have serviced per­sons with addiction problems; certainly these individuals may be covered by the employ­ment provisions of the ADA. Therefore, it is important to provide EAP professionals with information about who qualifies as an individ­ual with a disability under the ADA and what rights such individuals have under the law.

EAP professionals might also be able to assist with accommodation inquiries. SHRM mem­bers indicated in the survey that they would like more information on accommodations for persons with mental health problems, an area in which EAP personnel can be of assistance. In addition, persons with other kinds of dis­abilities may seek support from EAP profes­sionals when facing difficulties in the work­place or elsewhere that arise from a disabling condition or serious illness. EAP professionals may be the counseling and support system that an organization uses, and therefore pro­viding EAP professionals with information about the impact of disability, and the rights of persons with disabilities is most appropriate. EAPs are often also aware of local community resources and can refer employers and super­visors to relevant resources who can help in addressing an accommodation request.

Where can I get further resources to conduct training on the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Many private commercial distributors and not-for-profit organizations have now devel­oped informational and training materials on the ADA. A comprehensive listing of print and audio visual materials on the employment provisions of the ADA are available from your local Disability and Business Technical As­sistance Center; call 1-800-949-4232 to request such a list. A set of informational brochures on accommodations for particular disabilities is available from the Cornell University web­site at, or call (607) 255-7727, or also from your disability and business technical assistance center as listed above.

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