Question & Answer
What are Accessibility Consultants (ACs)?
Accessibility Consultant are employees who staff the NIH Reasonable Accommodation Program managed by the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Accessibility Consultants are neutral consultants to the NIH, who conduct legal analysis on whether an employee is an individual with a disability and then provides a recommendation to the decision maker regarding any requested and/or potential accommodations. The decision maker, in consult with the Accessibility Consultant, determines whether accommodation can be provided without causing an undue hardship.
How can I make a request?
A request for reasonable accommodation can be made either orally or in writing. Though you are not required to use any specific words or format for your request, you are responsible for notifying your agency of your need for accommodation. Sometimes you will be asked to provide information and/or documentation to establish that you are an individual with a disability. The information must identify and describe the limitations you have, as a result of your medical condition, that require accommodation.
What happens after I make a request?
Once the request is made, the NIH is required to initiate an interactive communication with you to facilitate effective and timely processing of the accommodation request. If you are an NIH employee, the decision maker is your first-line supervisor. Only a decision maker is authorized to approve or deny reasonable accommodation requests.
What is the interactive process?
The interactive process is an informal flexible dialogue between any and all parties involved in processing a request. This allows for clarifying the individual's needs, exploring potential accommodations, and ultimately identifying an effective reasonable accommodation.
How long does it take to process an RA request?
The time required to process a request for accommodation depends on many factors, such as what information is needed to be clear about the request, the time it takes to obtain the necessary supporting documentation, and the availability of all parties involved. As a general rule, NIH shall process all reasonable accommodation requests as expeditiously as possible, per Executive Order 13164 §2. Consistent with that directive, timeframes for timely processing have been established, which allow a maximum of 45 business days to process a request and provide any approved accommodation.
- Request Phase
- Decision Phase - (≤ 15 Business Days from receipt of sufficient medical documentation)
- Provision Phase - (≤ 30 Business Days from an Approval Decision)
What happens if the individual’s disability is not obvious?
If the disability and/or limitations are not obvious, the Agency may request medical information to substantiate that the individual has a disabling medical condition that causes relevant limitations that require accommodation. Medical documentation will be considered sufficient if it meets the following criteria:
- Describes the nature, severity, and duration of the individual's impairment,
- The activity or activities that the impairment limits,
- The extent to which the impairment limits the individual’s ability to perform said activity or activities; and,
- Substantiates why the requested reasonable accommodation is needed.
Medical documentation about the individual’s disability and functional limitations must come from a qualified health care or rehabilitation professional. Depending on the disability and the type of functional limitation it imposes, qualified professionals could be doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, vocational rehabilitation specialists, or licensed mental health professionals.
How is a decision reached on a request?
The decision maker will engage the requestor in a discussion (the interactive process) and consider the recommendation of the accessibility consultant, the essential functions of the position, the limitations the requestor has as a result of the medical condition, and available resources. Upon final review of all the information gathered, the decision maker will make a final determination to approve or deny the request. In the event of a denial, the decision maker must first consult with an Accessibility Consultant from EDI to ensure that all of the factors involved were taken into consideration. The decision maker is then charged to meet with the employee, discuss the decision via the interactive process, and document their decision in writing. Once issued, this will end the Decision Phase.
What role does Occupational Medical Service (OMS) have in the process?
OMS is the Agency’s RA Medical Reviewing Authority (MRA). If an AC receives medical documentation that is unclear and does not link the medical condition to the requestors limitation(s), the AC will seek a medical review from OMS.
What is NIH’s responsibility in providing reasonable accommodations to contractors?
The contracted worker’s employer, the contracting agency, is responsible for approving or denying the contracted worker’s reasonable accommodation request. The NIH’s role is to assist the contracting agency in ensuring that the approved reasonable accommodation can be provided.
In instances in which the reasonable accommodation is something that only the NIH can provide (i.e. computer software), the NIH has a legal obligation to coordinate the provision of the RA with the contracting agency. The contracting agency is responsible for receiving and processing the request of their employees. This includes reviewing any necessary documentation and determining if the requestor is a qualified person with a disability.