Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, anyone with a disability has the right to “reasonable accommodations“–modifications to public and work environments as required for equal participation in everyday activities. A few examples: employee handbooks in audio form; captions or a sign language interpreter during oral presentations; room to maneuver a wheelchair; a private room to retreat from sensory overload.
Many accommodations are established routine now. Nonetheless, people with disabilities still encounter situations where their requests for accommodations are treated as unreasonable.
And, painful to admit, sometimes the person raising the objection is right.
You Call That Reasonable?
An oft-heard complaint from the non-disabled is that people fake “invisible disabilities” (autism, PTSD, chronic fatigue syndrome, even arthritis or diabetes). Unfortunately, this has some basis in fact. Emotional Support Animals are now banned from many public places because some people used ESA claims as an excuse to bring badly behaved pets.
If you’re used to having family members go out of their way to lessen your struggles, it’s easy to forget that there is a difference between requesting reasonable accommodations and trying to dictate the whole situation. We can also forget that other people, including those without disabilities, have equal rights–rights to freedom from unnecessary annoyance, rights to consideration of their personal needs. Reasonable accommodations do not include:
- Right to park in a fire lane if no “handicapped” parking spaces are available
- Right to declare your dog (or cat or ferret) a service animal without formal training
- Right to threaten an autistic meltdown if anything unexpected is ever allowed to occur
And reasonable accommodations definitely do not include exemption from all personal responsibility. The purpose of equal access is not to “protect” anyone from frustration, but to ensure that everyone can be a fully contributing member of society.
A Responsible Person in an Inclusive World
If you have a disability requiring accommodations, commit to the following principles for maintaining your rights and your responsibility.
- Challenge yourself. Beware the mindset that says the world must do everything for you because you’re helpless: that’s the opposite of what reasonable accommodations were intended for. Never focus on what you can’t do: dedicate yourself to following your passions and developing your strengths. A sense of purpose nurtures clarity on what accommodations you do or don’t need.
- Care for your physical health and stay proactive in stress management. Neglecting self-care is a very common habit (hardly limited to people with disabilities), but it’s unfair to set yourself up for a bad-mood day and then demand that others inconvenience themselves to accommodate that bad mood. Often the most reasonable accommodations are the allowances you personally make for your limitations.
- Empathize with others, even when they treat your accommodations requests as unreasonable. Listen to them and learn what they’re really concerned about. Win-win solutions are surprisingly easy to find once somebody puts aside defensiveness to seek out points of agreement.
- Celebrate friends won, goals achieved, and little blessings. Happy, optimistic people rarely feel the need to make unreasonable demands in any aspect of life: they’re too busy appreciating life for what it is.