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Legal Briefs from Matt Cohen

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Transition: School to Work

The following are past questions and answers from Matt Cohen on this topic.

If you disclose a learning disability on a job application, does the employer have to provide accommodations?

If you put down on a job application that you have a learning disability or ADHD, is the employer supposed to offer help? I always put this on my applications but have never gotten any kind of help at work. What can I do about this?

Dear Wayne:

Employers are not permitted to ask about disabilities on job applications and you are not required to state that you have a disability.

If you meet the bona fide qualifications for the job and are given a preliminary offer, they may ask further questions that are job-related that may relate to a medical condition. More importantly, if you have a documented disability and require accommodations, you may present evidence of your disability to the employer, as well as documentation of the need for reasonable accommodations.

However, this is typically done after you are hired. The employer is not obligated to provide you with an accommodation simply because you identify that you have a disability. Check the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web site for information about your rights under the ADA in relation to both the application process and seeking accommodations after you are hired.

How can I help my adult daughter get an accommodation or exemption on her math requirements so she can and become a teacher?

My 23-year-old daughter has a well-documented, severe, and longstanding math disability. She has been told that to earn a degree in early childhood special education and to teach with a certificate in New Jersey she must pass two semesters of college-level algebra.

She is in the process of failing remedial algebra again. Can you suggest any agency or way to try to get an accommodation so that she can graduate college, take the Praxis (required exam for teachers), and teach? She has very strong verbal skills and is capable of all of the academic and practical work required for early childhood education.

It has been my experience that even typically developing preschoolers do not have to learn to do quadratic equations. I am not sure why the teacher must demonstrate that competency to teach preschool math. We appreciate any suggestions you can offer. Thank you.

Dear Jane:

I suggest that you contact the state agency responsible for teacher certification. They should have a procedure for granting waivers or accommodations for various requirements for certification. They may feel that these courses are fundamental to the preparation for the job, but as you point out, this seems questionable.

They should also have an appeal procedure to address what to do if they refuse to make an exception. In order to assure that you follow the right procedure, you and your daughter should consult with a knowdledgeable ADA/disability rights lawyer in your area for advice. You may get information on possible lawyers from COPAA, from the American Bar Association's Disability Lawyer Search engine, or by contacting the New Jersey Protection and Advocacy agency to get the New Jersey agency.

You may need expert support to make the point that the math skills being tested are not fundamental to the job for which the license is being sought. You may also be able to identify and propose other ways for satisfying the math requirement.

How can I help an employee who exhibits signs of dyslexia but does not have a diagnosis?

One of our employees appears to have dyslexia, which manifests itself in the inability of this employee to correctly alphabetize and therefore file cases where they belong.

She is not approachable about this topic and has not been diagnosed with LD; however, I would like to be able to assist her in filing alphabetically. Any suggestions or tools to achieve this goal would be appreciated.

Dear Diana,

You should consult court administration regarding any formal action in relation to a perceived disability.

However, there are various strategies that could be suggested to assist the employee with the filing, including providing some form of alphabet grid for her to have available as a reference.

There may also be hand-held computer devices that have the capability to help to organize things in alphabetical order. Although it might involve extra work, you could implement a symbol or number system to correspond to the case names to allow for sorting that isn't dependent on spelling.

She may benefit from formal evaluation for a learning disability. If you are her supervisor, you would need to handle this in an appropriate manner, with help from the human resources staff.