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ADA: Reasonable Accommodation

In Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp the Third Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether the ADA obligates an employer to accommodate an employee’ s disability when it affects the employee’s ability to get to work.  The principle issue on appeal was whether a shift change request could be considered a reasonable accommodation for an employee who is unable to drive at night due to partial blindness.

Rite Aid argued that it had no duty to consider changing Colwell’s shift because Colwell’s difficulties amounted to a commuting problem unrelated to the workplace and the ADA does not obligate the employer to address such difficulties. The Third Circuit rejected this argument and held, as a matter of law, that changing an employee’s schedule to alleviate disability-related difficulties in getting to work is a type of accommodation that the ADA contemplates.


A company must engage in reasonable accommodation unless it creates an “undue burden”. This is not strictly limited to the workplace, but can include workplace accessibility and employers should not dismiss requests for a disability-related accommodation relating to workplace accessibility.

More people with disabilities filed charges of discrimination against their employers last year than at any other time in the 20-year history of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each case should be evaluated carefully; employers can run into trouble when they pre-suppose an “undue burden” or narrowly define the scope of the law.