Accommodating Test-Takers with Disabilities: Finding the Balance

The ADA addresses a wide variety of tests, including job-related tests given by employers, academic tests given by schools, and tests for licenses or professional credentials given by state governments or private testing agencies.

A well-designed test will focus on the knowledge or skill the test is intended to measure. However, adjustments may be needed, particularly in the methods used to conduct tests, in order to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities to achieve meaningful results.

Title I

Employers covered by Title I of the ADA need to make sure that tests given to applicants or employees do not unnecessarily screen out those with disabilities. Tests should identify or assess factors that are “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity,” and not disability-related limitations that are irrelevant to the purpose of the test.

Reasonable accommodations for tests might include making sure a testing location is structurally accessible for individuals with mobility disabilities, offering tests in alternate formats (e.g., large print) or providing assistive technology (e.g., screen enlargement software) for computer-based tests, providing other auxiliary aids or services (e.g., qualified sign language interpreters or readers), using alternate methods to conduct tests (e.g., a job task demonstration instead of a written test), allowing an adjusted testing schedule (e.g., to enable a test-taker with diabetes to monitor blood sugar, administer insulin, or eat a snack), or allowing extra time to complete a test.

Some test-takers will need more than one accommodation. For example, an individual with limited manual dexterity may need a scribe to record answers, as well as additional time to complete the test since this method may take a little longer.

Appropriate accommodations should never undermine the purpose of the test or the validity of the results. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which regulates Title I of the ADA, explains:

“… an employer could require that an applicant with dyslexia take a written test for a particular position if the ability to read is the skill the test is designed to measure. Similarly, an employer could require that an applicant complete a test within established time frames if speed were one of the skills for which the applicant was being tested. However, the results of such a test could not be used to exclude an individual with a disability unless the skill was necessary to perform an essential function of the position and no reasonable accommodation was available to enable the individual to perform that function, or the necessary accommodation would impose an undue hardship.”

test answer sheet with pencilTitle II and Title III

Title II broadly covers state and local government programs, which conduct a wide variety of testing activities. Private businesses covered by Title III, including many private schools, as well as businesses that offer examinations related to educational or professional purposes (e.g., the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a bar exam), also have obligations to ensure fair testing.

The principles are much the same as those that apply in the employment context. Accommodations should preserve the legitimate purpose of a test while eliminating the irrelevant effects of disability-related limitations.

Documentation

Covered entities are allowed to obtain documentation to support requests for testing accommodations (including for tests given before a job offer is made, when employers are generally prohibited from asking about disability or obtaining disability-related information).

Documentation required must be limited and focused:

  • Documentation should only be required where the disability and/or the need for the requested accommodation is not obvious. For example, if an individual who uses a wheelchair asks about the physical accessibility of a testing location, documentation of her disability should not be requested.
  • Documentation should be focused on the request. For example, if an individual says he has a learning disability and needs extra time to complete a test, documentation may be obtained that verifies the nature of the learning disability and explains why extra time is needed. Additional medical documentation, such as information about other disabilities or health conditions the individual might have, should not be required.

When appropriate accommodations are provided, it won’t mean everyone passes the test, but that everyone has an equal opportunity to do so.

Resources

Federal agencies have developed technical assistance materials and engaged in a variety of enforcement activities related to testing practices. These materials can be instructive for those giving tests as well as those taking them.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC)

Employment Tests and Selection Procedures

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

ADA Requirements: Testing Accommodations

Settlement Agreement: DOJ and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

Settlement Agreement: DOJ and National Board of Medical Examiners (“NBME”)

Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Materials


The contents of this newsletter were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90DP0089). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this newsletter do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

© 2019 TransCen, Inc.