Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace

Over the last 40 years, U.S. law has changed, enabling people with disabilities to have greater equality in the workplace. Laws like the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in 1998 have been especially important in this process. Thanks to these laws, people with disabilities can get the support they need to be employed, which can include Personal Assistance Services (PAS) in the workplace.

Reasonable Accommodations

A key part of how these laws have expanded the job possibilities of people with disabilities is requiring that most employers supply reasonable accommodations to their employees. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification to a job or workplace that enables an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job successfully.

Note that the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. If you work for an employer with less than 15 employees, that employer may not be legally required to supply you with the accommodation you need. However, many small employers choose to supply accommodations even when they are not required to do so.

The ADA does not apply to employers that are owned and operated by Indian tribes, but Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act may apply if tribal employers accepted federal financial assistance. Some Indian tribes have also adopted laws which are similar to the ADA.

Reasonable Accommodation Examples
  • An employee who is blind can request a computer screen reader to successfully perform the essential functions of the job.
  • An employee with a mental health condition can request a flexible work schedule or can request to schedule time away from work for medical reasons.
  • An employee with limited mobility can have a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) help with personal care, like in the restroom or at lunch breaks.

Personal Assistance Services (PAS) as a Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace

Some people need Personal Assistance Services in the workplace to be able to perform the essential functions of their jobs. If you need PAS services, they may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and your employer may have the responsibility to supply PAS services if you request them.

Examples of Workplace Personal Assistance Services

When you apply for a job, you may need:

  • A sign-language interpreter if you are deaf
  • A reader for the employment exam if you have a visual impairment
  • A personal assistant if you have limited use of your arms and need to fill out a job application by hand

When you have a job, you may need PAS for:

  • Filing duties, getting work materials that are heavy or out of reach, or performing other nonessential manual tasks
  • Assistance with arranging business-related travel
  • Real-time captioning during a meeting

Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation

In order to get any reasonable accommodation at a job, including PAS, you need to understand the rules and protections related to getting an accommodation. One of the keys is disclosing that you have a disability.

In fact, the only time it is required to disclose the existence of a disabling condition in the workplace is when you request a reasonable accommodation. Your reasonable accommodation request will be considered by the employer, who can request documentation that is needed to establish the existence of a disability and the need for a reasonable accommodation.

Once your documentation has been supplied, you and your employer will negotiate what the appropriate accommodation is. If PAS is the best accommodation for you, your employer may choose to accept that. However, your employer may also think of other accommodations that make more sense from their perspective. Their only responsibility is to supply the accommodations that allow you to perform the key functions of your job.

For example, if you request a personal assistant to read documentation out loud, the employer may find it more affordable to get you screen-reading software for your computer that will read documents to you.

DB101’s article on Job Supports and Accommodations has much more detailed information about disclosing your disability and requesting reasonable accommodations.

Funding for Workplace Personal Assistance Services

Workplace PAS are often funded by an employer when they are considered a reasonable accommodation. Additional funding may also be available from the following sources:

Resources for Workplace Personal Assistant Services