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Accommodations for Mental Illness in the United States



Do you have a diagnosed mental health condition and live in the United States? If so, you are eligible for certain accommodations at your school and/or workplace.


What is an accommodation?

An accommodation is a modification or adjustment to one’s job, work environment, or the standard hiring procedure they are involved with under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Accommodations are not privileges. On the contrary, these are rights that guarantee people with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses, an equal opportunity in accessing quality education, non-discriminatory workplaces, and various other activities. The purpose of these rights is to empower people with disabilities to become productive members of society.


According to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), all schools, including colleges and universities must provide accommodations to students with disabilities. Likewise, all workplaces must provide accommodations if one requests them. These rules also apply to temporary disabilities, such as an injury to one’s arm.


Mental health conditions that fall under this umbrella include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and many others (National Alliance on Mental Illness).


Accommodations in K-12 schools

In K-12 schools, accommodations can be made upon request by contacting a 504 coordinator, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) coordinator, or a school psychologist. Parents also tend to be involved in the process with the aim of ensuring their child is given all the accommodations they might need.


Requesting for accommodations in schools requires medical documentation from a medical professional stating that this person has a health condition which interferes with their learning. The condition does NOT have to be "severe" in order to justify making a request.


Each of the student’s teachers will be subsequently informed of any approved accommodations by the school’s point of contact and consequently (one would hope) will start doing their best to accommodate the student’s needs.


Note that there is no difference between public and private schools - both must provide accommodations..


Accommodations might include :

  • Extended time on exams

  • Taking exams in a quieter environment like another classroom

  • Excused absences for seeking mental health treatment

  • Completing alternate assignments


College/University Accommodations

In order to access accommodation at a college/university level, those with a particular condition ought to reach out to their university’s disability service center.


In contrast with K-12 schools, most college students must also send a letter of accommodation to each of their professors every semester stating that they have a disability (they don’t have to specify which one) and must be ensured specific accommodations to work productively. Afterwards, their professors need to verify these letters and confirm that they have read/received them. Each school has its own procedure and time for these processes, but they retain the same core structures and requirements legally-speaking.


Accommodations vary depending on the university.


Common accommodations in colleges/ universities include:

  • Priority registration for classes

  • Audio recording lectures

  • Extended time during exams

  • Volunteer notetaker for class


Legally, though, there are fewer regulations pertaining to disability accommodations at the college/university level. Each college has their own policies regarding accommodations and they may offer different options.


As it has been stated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:


“FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) is not required beyond high school (the postsecondary level), but schools are required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of disability.”

Workplace Accommodations

Requesting accommodations in the workplace involves reaching out to your employer - usually the human resources department in particular. And even though it might not be required for you to disclose your condition when applying for a job, if you would like to be given certain accommodations, it is best to mention that you have a condition right away (and many job applications ask for this information as an optional last step).


As the Job Accommodation Network pointed out:


“Employers may request sufficient documentation when the disability and/or need for accommodation is not known or obvious, but are not required to do so to provide an accommodation.”

Accommodations in the workplace might include:

  • Flexible Schedules

  • Modified Break Schedule

  • Rest Area/Private Space

  • Breaks for taking medication

All in all, U.S. laws do mandate certain accommodations to be made available for those with disabilities, including mental disabilities. The extent to which these protections are offered and the difficulty of obtaining such accommodations can vary depending on the school level or workplace environment, but your health ultimately should come first even if the place you are at does not seem to feel the same. We encourage you to advocate for your human and legal rights and stand in solidarity as you seek the accommodations you deserve to live life the way you know you can and should.


 

SOURCES


“Accommodations for Disabilities.” Accommodations for Disabilities | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/college-students/accommodations.

“Managing a Mental Health Condition in College.” NAMI, www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Teens-Young-Adults/Managing-a-Mental-Health-Condition-in-College.

“Requests For Medical Documentation and the ADA.” Job Accommodation Network, askjan.org/articles/Requests-For-Medical-Documentation-and-the-ADA.cfm#:~:text=Q%3A%20Is%20an%20employer%20required,so%20to%20provide%20an%20accommodation.


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