What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination in a number of areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and access to government programs and services. Signed into law on July 25, 1990, it is a piece of legislation that is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Is ADHD Protected Under the ADA?

Yes, ADHD is protected under the ADA. This wasn’t always the case, however. After the ADA was passed in 1990, a number of cases were brought before the Supreme Court to determine whether certain disabilities were protected under the act. Because many people with disabilities were initially denied eligibility for protections in these cases and in work and school settings (including those with cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes), the Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) was developed to clarify the scope of the ADA.

Signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA created significant changes in how the ADA was applied. Previously, there had been a very narrow and restrictive interpretation of disability applied when determining someone's ADA eligibility. The ADAAA brought about important changes, including a broader definition of disability (including neurological disorders like ADHD) and making it easier for individuals to access ADA protections. Instead of focusing on whether the individual's condition was considered a disability, the ADAAA placed more emphasis on compliance with providing reasonable ADA accommodations.

ADA Accommodations for ADHD

People with ADHD may qualify for accommodations under the ADA. However, it's important to note that simply having an ADHD diagnosis doesn't automatically guarantee that you'll receive accommodations. To qualify for these accommodations, your ADHD must significantly impact your ability to perform important functions or major life activities.

For example, some employees with ADHD find that it does not substantially impact their ability to work. These individuals will not be automatically granted accommodations based solely on their diagnosis. But if you're struggling at work due to your ADHD despite being qualified for the job, you may qualify for accommodations from your employer.

How to qualify for accommodations at work

To qualify for ADA accommodations at work, talk to your human resources (HR) department first. You can share your diagnosis with the HR officer and ask for accommodations to help you perform your work more effectively. For this meeting, be sure to come prepared with reasonable suggestions for accommodations that will address your challenges at work. Depending on your employer's requirements, you may have to provide a verification of your diagnosis from your doctor as well as their recommended accommodations. Your employer is not entitled to ask for complete medical records, however — only enough to verify your diagnosis and the need to accommodate it.

Some people are concerned about revealing their ADHD diagnosis in order to receive accommodations, particularly in the workplace. If that's the case for you, consider requesting accommodations first without mentioning your ADHD. Try proposing realistic changes, like moving to a quieter workspace, by explaining that it will help you be more productive at work. However, if this approach is not successful, you may need to reveal your ADHD diagnosis in order to receive the accommodations you need. An employer is not required to provide accommodations if they have a lack of knowledge regarding your condition.

One thing to keep in mind is that you must be capable of meeting the essential functions of your job with the accommodations in place. If you're struggling in your role, it's important to think about whether you will be able to perform better with accommodations. If not, then the role may not be a good fit for you overall.

Examples of ADHD accommodations

What kinds of accommodations can someone with ADHD ask for at work? There is a very broad range of possible ADA accommodations for ADHD in the workplace, such as:

  • Moving to a quieter workspace with fewer distractions
  • Working from home occasionally or permanently
  • Taking frequent breaks throughout the workday
  • Using a different type of desk or chair that helps manage restlessness
  • Permitting the use of noise-canceling headphones
  • Providing certain types of assistive technology, like timers or text-to-speech software
  • Blocking email and phone notifications during certain work periods

The accommodations you request must be specific to your ability to fulfill your role at work and the way your ADHD impacts your performance. They must also be reasonable in nature and not place an unrealistic burden on your employer. In many cases, it can help to brainstorm with your employer to come up with creative solutions to address your needs.

Before you request ADA accommodations at work or in another setting, consider whether you're getting the treatment you need. Taking the right ADHD medication can be incredibly effective at helping you manage your symptoms on a day-to-day basis. Get in touch with us at Done to learn more about getting an ADHD diagnosis and treatment. And if you're already a Done member, remember that you can reach out to your care team to request a diagnosis verification for getting ADA accommodations.