Guide for Assessing Persons with Disabilities - How to determine and implement assessment accommodations - Key definitions

Duty to accommodate

The duty to accommodate is based on the legal obligations set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Employment Equity Act (EEA), and is a requirement that must be applied throughout the appointment process. The duty to accommodate refers to the obligation of an employer or service provider to take measures to eliminate disadvantages to employees, prospective employees or clients that result from a rule, practice or physical barrier that has, or may have, an impact on individuals or groups protected under the CHRA, or on designated group under the EEA. Employers must make sure that they build accommodation into their policies and practices as much as possible from the outset, and must accommodate up to the point of undue hardship, considering health, safety and cost.


Merit is the extent to which a person meets the essential qualifications, including official language proficiency, of the work to be performed. In addition, managers may take into consideration other "merit criteria" such as asset qualifications, operational requirements and future or present organizational needs.

Persons with disabilities

The term "persons with disabilities" is defined in the Employment Equity Act (EEA) as:

"persons who have a long-term or recurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric or learning impairment and who

  1. consider themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment, or
  2. believe that a employer or potential employer is likely to consider them to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment,

and includes persons whose functional limitations owing to their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or workplace".

For the purpose of this guide the term "persons with disabilities" is not limited to this definition. This guide also includes temporary conditions such as injuries, recuperation from surgery or specific requirements due to pregnancy or childbirth.

Functional limitations

Functional limitations result from disabilities and are restrictions in an individual's functioning that hinder the ability to perform tasks or activities.

Accommodations in the assessment process

In the context of assessing persons with disabilities, accommodations, also called assessment accommodations in this guide, are designed to ensure that each person is assessed according to his or her own personal characteristics rather than presumed group characteristics. Specifically, they provide individuals with an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications without being limited or unfairly restricted due to the effects of a disability, while respecting the core value of merit and non-partisanship, as well as the values guiding appointments, which are access, fairness, representativeness and transparency.

Assessment accommodations are changes or modifications that are made to an assessment procedure, format or content. They are purposely designed to remove obstacles that are presented by an individual's disability, without modifying the nature or level of the qualification that is being assessed1. This ensures the validity of the assessment results, which is essential to the fair treatment of everyone and for selecting qualified personnel.

Ideally, assessment accommodations should modify the standard assessment administration process to the least extent possible and should resemble as much as possible to the accommodations which would be provided on the job to do the related tasks. These considerations help on ensuring that the results obtained under modified assessment conditions are valid and comparable to results obtained in assessment conditions originally intended, and on which norms and cut off points are based2. This is essential for selecting qualified employees.

When the proposed changes to the assessment procedure or modifications to the content of the assessment alter the nature or level of the qualification being assessed, they should not be considered as potential accommodations. The same principle applies when the provision of certain adaptive technologies or services will alter the nature or level of the assessed qualification. The consequence of using assessment accommodations that modify the qualification being assessed is to invalidate results obtained, and therefore, can lead to bad appointment decisions.

Types of assessment accommodations

The decision to modify assessment procedure or content must rests on the functional limitations presented by the individual, the nature of the assessment instrument itself and the qualification being assessed3. Depending on the nature and extent of the functional limitations of the individual, one or more assessment modifications may be appropriate in a particular situation. The listing of possible modifications provided here should not suggest that the full array of strategies is routinely available or appropriate.

Modifications in setting. One strategy can be to alter the setting of the assessment. For example, a test that is normally administered in a group setting may be administered individually. Other potential alterations include changing the test location if it is not wheelchair-accessible, providing a table and a chair that provide greater physical support, or altering the lighting conditions in the assessment room.

Modifications in presentation format. The medium used to present the instructions or questions to the person can be altered. For example, a test booklet may be produced in Braille, large print or audio format. A reader could also be appropriate for persons who are blind. Another example would be to provide instructions through the use of sign language or in writing.

Modifications in response format. Modifications can be made to allow individuals with disabilities to give responses using their preferred communication modality. For example, having the respondent use a tape recorder, a computer, a Braillewriter, or its own adaptive equipment to answer questions. Another example would be to allow someone who has dexterity problems to mark his or her answers directly into the test booklet rather than using the standard multiple-choice answer sheet.

Modifications in scheduling/timing. Another accommodation strategy is to alter the timing of the assessment. This may include extended time to complete a test or an interview and/or more breaks during assessment. It may also include scheduling an assessment session at the most appropriate time of day for a person.

Other modifications. In certain circumstances, there may be other appropriate accommodations that are not included in the four strategies previously-mentioned. For example, another possible assessment accommodation strategy could entail the use of different assessment method to assess the person with a disability. Although a substitute assessment instrument may sometimes represent a desirable accommodation solution, it may be very difficult to find an adequate replacement that measures the same qualification with comparable technical quality, and for which scores can be placed on the same scale as the original instrument. It is important to remember that the use of different assessment methods or sources of information must be justified on the basis that such differential usage provides for a more accurate assessment of the person's qualification while remaining equitable and fair to everyone. It should also make the case that the information gathered on qualifications from these different methods or sources is comparable.

Another example of an assessment accommodation not covered above could involve administering only certain portions of a test to an individual. This procedure is sometimes used in clinical assessment when subparts of a test require capabilities that a person with a disability does not have. However, it should be noted that eliminating a portion of a test is an exceptional measure and may not be appropriate in situations such as certification assessment or employment assessment. This is because the component of the qualification being assessed by each portion of a test may represent a separate and necessary job or occupational requirement. Therefore, it would probably not be recommended in the assessment phase of an appointment process.

1 American Education Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. American Educational Research Association: Washington DC (2004)

2 Nester, M.A., Bruyere, S.M.(2000). Pre-Employment Testing and the ADA. Disability & HR: Tips for Human Resource Professionals,Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute. On the World Wide Web:

3 American Education Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. American Educational Research Association: Washington DC (2004)

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: