Q. Is illiteracy considered a disability under the ADA? And if it is, what accommodations would we be expected to make, as an employer?
A. Illiteracy can be considered a disability if it is the result of a learning disability or other physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as reading, learning or communicating. On the other hand, if an individual is illiterate due to social, cultural or economic disadvantages, the illiteracy may not constitute a disability under the ADA. If the illiteracy is due to a physical or mental impairment, then the employer has a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation to assist the employee in performing his or her job, as long as it does not pose an undue hardship.
The question of which accommodations would be appropriate, if any, depends on the essential functions of the individual’s job. For instance, if reading is an essential function of the job then it may be an undue hardship to have another employee read documents or emails to the illiterate employee or assume the reading-related tasks of the illiterate employee. However, if reading is not an essential function of the job, having another employee take on this task may be considered a reasonable accommodation.
As with any reasonable accommodation, the employer should examine the individual circumstances and engage in a dialogue with the employee to assess what type of reasonable accommodation might enable the employee to perform his or her job without causing an undue hardship.