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Disability Determination

Under the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, Federal agencies are required to provide reasonable, job related, accommodations to "qualified individuals with disabilities," unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the Agency.

Under current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations at 29 C.F.R. 1630.2, to establish the presence of a disability an individual must have a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits" one or more of that person's "major life activities," have a record of such impairment or be regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, the following: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, thinking, sitting, standing, reaching, interacting with others, concentrating, lifting, sleeping, and running. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, "major life activities" is expanded to include "major bodily functions". Major bodily functions include, but are not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. Additionally, the term "substantially limits" is to be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage. An impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered "substantially limiting." Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability.

Once the Agency determines a person has a "disability," the next step in the reasonable accommodation process is to determine whether the employee is a "qualified individual with a disability." To be "qualified," an individual must satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job related requirements of the position and be able to perform the "essential functions" of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation.
Essential functions are the fundamental job duties performed in a position. A function may be "essential" because:

  1. The reason the position exists is to perform that function;
  2. There are a limited number of employees available who could perform that function; or
  3. The function is highly specialized.

Essential functions should be determined by the employee's supervisor with input from the employee. A list of essential functions should be provided to the employee to give to his or her health care provider to assist him/her in understanding the fundamental functions of the employee's position. With this information, the health care provider will better be able to make recommendations on accommodation solutions that will aid the employee in performing the job's essential functions. Additionally, the list of essential functions and information provided by the employee's health care provider is used by the Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (RAC) to determine whether an individual meets the definition of a "qualified individual with a disability."

Reasonable Accommodation

Once an employee is determined to be a "qualified individual with a disability" the RAC notifies the employee and his or her supervisor of the determination. It is then the responsibility of the employee's agency to determine (if they have not already) an effective and reasonable accommodation and to provide that accommodation within 30 business days. An effective and reasonable accommodation may include:

Reassignment is the reasonable accommodation of last resort. Supervisors must first consider those accommodations that would enable an employee to remain in his/her current position. Reassignment is required only after it has been determined that: (1) there are no effective accommodations that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her current position, or (2) all other reasonable accommodations would impose an undue hardship.

If an effective and reasonable accommodation cannot be made because the necessary accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the agency, it is recommended that the agency consult with the RAC prior to finalizing its decision. Once a decision is made, the Agency is required to notify the employee of the hardship and discuss options, including reassignment to another USDA agency.

When it is determined that an employee is not entitled to reasonable accommodation, the employee will be notified of the reasons for the determination and provided alternatives and options outside of the reasonable accommodation process. At that time, the employee will also be advised of his/her right to contact an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor to file a complaint of discrimination within 45 days of receiving the denial notice.

Medical Information

When a disability is not obvious, employees seeking reasonable accommodation are required to submit medical documentation to the RAC, within 21 days of initiating a request and will generally include:

Interpreting Services

Due to the difficulty in obtaining interpreters in the New Orleans area, a two-week notice is requested, although the Civil Rights and Conflict Management Office (CRCMO) will attempt to obtain interpreting services with shorter notice. Please note that vendors require two interpreters for sessions longer than one hour. A two-hour minimum is charged by vendors, even if the event is canceled without advance notice or only one interpreter is used. Services needed the same day of request are charged at the emergency rate.

The UbiDuo system in the CRCMO Office is available for use. This system allows hearing-impaired employees to talk face-to-face with their supervisor and not wait for an interpreter.

Contact Information

All OCFO employees are to send request for reasonable accommodations to USDA, Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM).

An individual can make either an oral or written request for accommodation. To request an accommodation, an individual may use "plain English" and does not need to mention the Rehabilitation Act or "reasonable accommodation." A family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment. The request for a reasonable accommodation must be made for a reason related to a medical condition.

Reasonable Accommodation Assistance

Reasonable Accommodations Coordinator - Bobby Whittington

Mailing Address:

Office of Human Resources Management
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Whitten Building, Room 25-W, MS9611
Washington, DC., 20250-1400

Additional Resources

Last Updated / Reviewed: November 17, 2020