auditory processing disorder accommodations federal employees

Imagine the constant hum of conversations, the rhythmic tap of keyboards, and the unexpected ring of phones. The familiar office soundscape can present a symphony of challenges for federal employees who have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Fortunately, reasonable accommodations can create a more comfortable and productive work environment for individuals with APD.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of qualified employees with disabilities. Below, our federal reasonable accommodation attorneys will outline the legal framework, explore different auditory processing disorder accommodations for federal employees, and guide you through the process of obtaining adjustments that promote a more supportive and inclusive federal work environment.

Learn how we can help you today by calling (800) 801-0598 or filling out our online form.

Demystifying APD: Understanding the Challenges

Auditory processing disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the brain’s inability to process auditory information effectively or efficiently. Individuals with APD may experience some key issues.

  • Difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments. The background noise of an office can make it challenging to distinguish individual voices and follow conversations.
  • Challenges with following verbal instructions. Complex instructions or rapid speech can be difficult to process. It can also make it challenging to retain the information conveyed.
  • Difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in sounds. This can impact tasks that require the ability to identify similar-sounding words or understand the emotional tone of speech. 

Individuals with APD may also experience difficulties with auditory processing speed, resulting in delayed reactions to verbal cues or information. 

How Does the ADA Define Disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides a broad legal definition of disability to protect people with a variety of physical and mental impairments. 

The ADA defines a person with a disability in the following ways.

  • Has a physical or mental impairment. This encompasses a vast array of conditions, including APD, deafness, mobility limitations, chronic illnesses, and learning disabilities.
  • Substantial limitations of one or more major life activities. The ADA defines major life activities as basic everyday functions essential for independent living, such as sleeping, seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, working, learning, and caring for oneself. 
  • Has a record of impairment. This encompasses individuals who may no longer experience the symptoms of the impairment but who have a documented history, potentially affecting past or future opportunities.
  • Regarded as having such an impairment. This protects individuals perceived as having a disability, even if they don’t technically meet the criteria. Often, those who are merely thought to have an impairment can experience discrimination due to this erroneous perception.

The ADA does not provide an exhaustive list of qualifying impairments. Instead, it focuses on the functional impact on major life activities, which can vary greatly depending on the individual and nature of their APD.

Is APD a Disability Under the ADA?

While APD doesn’t always meet the ADA’s definition of disability in every case, its impact on communication and learning can qualify it as a disability for many individuals. The key factor is demonstrating a substantial limitation in one or more major life activities due to APD. 

For example, if your APD significantly hinders your ability to understand speech in noisy environments, participate in meetings, or follow instructions at work, it may be considered a disability under the ADA. An attorney who focuses on disability rights can help you assess your individual circumstances and determine your eligibility for protection.

Examples of Workplace Accommodations for Auditory Processing Disorder

The potential accommodations for APD in the workplace are numerous and should be adapted to your unique needs. Let’s look at some common accommodations for individuals with APD.

Minimizing Distractions

It can help to try to lessen noisy distractions by doing the following:

  • Quieter Workspace: You can request a private office, soundproof cubicle, or designated quiet room.
  • Noise Reduction: You can utilize noise-canceling headphones or white noise machines.

Often, these simple accommodations can make a big difference for APD sufferers.

Enhancing Communication

There are some adjustments that have been found to help people understand what is being communicated.

  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs): You can explore amplifiers, FM systems, or real-time captioning technology.
  • Clear Communication: You can encourage colleagues to repeat themselves, rephrase if needed, and allow extra processing time. It’s also possible to request written communications when available.
  • Note-taking: It can help to use a notetaker during meetings or have recordings available for review.

These accommodations are relatively simple to employ.

Additional Considerations

Lastly, your employer should consider providing you with the following:

  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Your employer can allow you to explore telework, modified schedules, or job restructuring to reduce auditory overload.
  • Extended Time: You may be able to request additional time to process information and complete tasks.

This list of accommodations is intended as a starting point. Discussing your individual needs with your supervisor and disability coordinator is essential for determining the best accommodations for you.

Working from Home As a Reasonable Accommodation for Auditory Processing Disorder

For some people with APD, working from home might be a life-changing option. While not guaranteed, telework provides a quieter atmosphere that is free of the continual background noise and distractions common in traditional offices. If background noise makes your work more difficult, working from home can dramatically increase your capacity to focus, digest information, and engage successfully at work.

However, telework isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and not all jobs can be done remotely. Discuss the feasibility of remote work with your superior.

Proving Your Case

Securing auditory processing disorder work accommodations requires a two-pronged approach—documentation, and engagement in the ADA Interactive Process.

Gathering Documentation

Let’s look at some documents that will help prove your case:

  • Medical Diagnosis—A report from a qualified healthcare professional that details your APD diagnosis, including the severity and specific challenges you face; and
  • Supporting Information—Although optional, additional documentation, like past accommodation plans, can further strengthen your case.

Your lawyer can help you determine which documents might help in your case.

Engaging in the ADA Interactive Process

The interactive process involves the following:

  • Open Communication—Be open and specific about your needs and desired accommodations;
  • Collaboration Is Key—Work with your supervisor and disability specialist to explore solutions while considering the impact on your job duties and the overall work environment; and
  • Documentation Is Essential—Document all interactions and proposed accommodations throughout the process, keeping copies for your records.

After the interactive process, your employer will advise you of their decision. They may provide you with accommodations or deny your request.

Appealing a Denial

If your employer denies your initial request, review and follow your agency’s internal appeal process. If all available channels within your organization have been exhausted, you have the right to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

Consulting with an experienced federal employment law attorney can help you with the appeal process and help you explore your options if you believe that you were the victim of discrimination or that your rights as a disabled person were violated.

Need APD Reasonable Accommodations? We Can Help

If you are having trouble securing the accommodations you need to advance in your career, Pines Federal has a team of seasoned experts to assist you. Bringing unparalleled determination, sensitivity, and personal commitment to every case we handle, our attorneys have over 60 years of combined experience. Let us be your advocate and partner in turning the challenges of APD into opportunities for success. Contact us online or call (800) 801-0598 today for a consultation.