Reasonable accomodation: tackling unemployment in Europe

23 September 2010 - The European Parliament has just adopted its employment guidelines, to be validated by the Council soon in October. The main EU headline target is to boost employment rate to 75% and reduce the number of people living in poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million. To achieve that, Europe 2020 strategy has to make sure the labour market is accessible to everyone, including persons with disabilities. The European Disability Forum raised the question of reasonable accommodation at the workplace with European experts. Stig Langvad explains what means reasonable accommodation at the workplace.


  • 69% of all Europeans have a job.
  • Only 29 % of Europeans with disabilities have a job

Persons with disabilities are twice as likely as people without disabilities to be unemployed. As a result they are at a high risk of poverty. There is still a need to make labour market services much more inclusive and systematically update their competences on disability, relevant rules and solutions for adaptations of the work place.


Persons with disabilities are discriminated on the field of employment. In general employers are not always aware of the way they could recruit or adapt the workplace so that persons with disabilities can do their work as anyone else. Reasonable accommodation is a legal concept which means that the employer has to make changes adapted to its cost and benefices.

In the European Directive on equal treatment at the workplace an exact meaning of “reasonable” is not defined. EU member states have to describe it themselves.

To raise this issue and discuss encountered obstacles in implementation, on 23 September the European Disability Forum and the European Foundation Centre co-organised the conference Reasonable accommodation at the workplace in light of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

EDF executive member Stig Langvad has just presented the results of a questionnaire on the implementation of this Directive from the perspective of organisations of persons with disabilities.

EDF Newsletter Disability Voice asked Stig Langvad to tell us more:

Disability Voice: What is the European legislation about employment and persons with disabilities?

Stig Langvad: For many years the policies towards inclusion of persons with disabilities in the legislation of the European Union has been based on the principle of non-discrimination.

One of the most important legislations within the field of disability is a directive from the year 2000 (2000/78/E). This textaims at removing all kinds of discrimination of persons with disabilities on the field of employment. The directive does not only cover the concept of non-discrimination but it does also contain an obligation to the employer to secure reasonable accommodation.

In December 2006, the UN decided that persons with disabilities should have their own convention based on the principle of non-discrimination and equal opportunities. The reason for this convention was the experience that persons with disabilities did not get the access to the same rights and same opportunities to participate in society as other citizens.

The EU wants the employment rate in the EU to be increased to 75% by 2020, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups (young people aged 15-25, older workers aged 50-64, unskilled women workers, people with disabilities and people with migrant backgrounds). Persons with disabilities need to be prioritised under this target, given that 15% of the working age population has some kind of disability or long-standing health problem.

If employers take appropriate measures, it will enable an employee to have the access to employment, without barriers caused by disability. Smooth adaptations of the workplace to accommodate persons with disabilities would help to adapt what UNCRPD stands for saying about “the right to work on an equal basis with others(…) to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market that is open and accessible to persons with disabilities”.

The denial of reasonable accommodation or the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation is a form of discrimination. As any other distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability it is contra fundamental freedoms.

Disability Voice: What exactly means reasonable accommodation and how is that covered in the EU law?

Stig Langvad: At this time there is no clear understanding across the European Union about the concept of reasonable accommodation. The reasonable accommodation is not just about physical adaptation of the workplace in relation to accessible toilets, access and communication for visually impaired etc. The reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. That includes as well:

  • To ensure equal opportunities in the application process of hiring new employees;
  • To enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job;
  • To enable an employee with a disability to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment;
  • To make existing facilities more readily accessible to individuals with disabilities;
  • To provide modified equipment, work schedules, training materials;
  • To change the attitude among the employers and the other employees;
  • To adjust the job itself so that persons with different kinds of limitations are able to perform on equal terms;
  • To give persons with disabilities access to the education.

Reasonable accommodation has to be adapted according to the needs of the specific person with the disability to break down the barriers which are preventing a person with a specific impairment to be able to work side-by-side with others.

Disability Voice: You presented the survey done across the disability movement about the EU Directive on equal treatment at the workplace. What is the main output of the results?

Stig Langvad: When we talked to our national council we could see a very clear pattern- so far the concept of non-discrimination at the workplace has not been successful. The directive is not well known among persons with disabilities, employers, employees, lawyers. That makes it a hidden directive. The necessary system has not been put in place and the needed knowledge about persons with disabilities and reasonable accommodation is not present. There are only a few countries who have decided on penalties when companies break the laws.

Learn more about the Disability Interest Group from the European Foundation Center

Source: EDF