Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act

What does the law require for Certification Agencies?

Any agency that sponsors a licensing or credentialing examination is likely to receive applications for test accommodations and many do receive such requests. Candidates for the examination usually request that the agency make some adjustment to the structure, format or administration of the examination. How the agency responds to these requests will have an important impact on the integrity of its examination, the meaning of its test scores and the value of its credential.

Since enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, many agencies and boards have been inundated with test accommodation requests, while others have received none or only a few. Agencies receiving as few as one application a year are at risk if even a single request is not managed properly. Taking the time to formulate a board or agency policy and internal procedures to apply it can save time, money and a great deal of aggravation.

Applicants generally--though not always--request test accommodations on the basis of a claimed disability. Understanding the Americans with Disability Act's (ADA) requirements will help you evaluate whether and when to say "yes" to a request and will give you the confidence to defend your decision. The answers to the following questions will help your agency define a fair and defensible basis for ADA decision-making.

Frequently Asked Questions on the ADA

What are your board or agency's rights and obligations under ADA?

Section 309 of Title III of the ADA covers examinations and courses offered by private entities such as credentialing agencies and licensing boards. These entities are obligated to offer examinations and courses "in a place and manner accessibility to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals."


Credentialing agencies have the right to determine who is a person with a disability as defined by ADA. Individuals who do not meet the legal definition of disability, regardless of their medical or psychiatric diagnosis, are not protected under the law and agencies are not required to provide accommodations to these examinees. They may, however, choose to provide what are known as "courtesy accommodations" to examinees not meeting the legal definition of disability, such as those with temporary conditions (broken limb, pregnancy) or problems not severely limiting a life function (back pain, diabetes, some learning disabilities).

Other language in Title III clarifies that an agency is required to make modifications (accommodations) in its policies, practices, or procedures to make them accessible to individuals with disabilities UNLESS making those modifications would "fundamentally alter the nature" of its examinations.

It is important for an agency to carefully articulate the knowledge, skills and abilities each examination measures in its policy statement so that it can make informed, defensible decisions about when and how it is or is not appropriate to provide test accommodations.

What are your applicants' rights and obligations under ADA?

Candidates requesting test accommodations must provide the agency with comprehensive documentation of a need for accommodation. That is, they must supply a thorough, written assessment by a qualified professional of their CURRENT functional limitations. The assessment must also explain the severity of any limitations and how they restrict the candidate's access to the examination. Applicants will not know what documentation to provide, so it is important that an agency post documentation guidelines on its website and also include them in any printed application materials.

A candidate with disabilities (as defined by the law) has a right to equal access to the credentialing examination and any other program offered by the agency. The threshold question, however, is whether the person is an individual with a disability under ADA. Once that determination is made--yes or no - the agency can move on to decide what accommodations will effectively eliminate or lessen the candidate's functional limitations with respect to the examination.

How should Certification Agencies handle ADA test accommodation requests?
As already mentioned, an agency should establish documentation guidelines to elicit the information needed for it to make informed decisions. The most frequent cause of a deferred decision or a denied request is lack of sufficient information.

Once documentation is received, an agency needs to insure that its staff is trained to identify the basic features of the documentation. However, it takes much more than a set of psychoeducational test scores to validate a diagnosis, functional limitations and need for accommodations. Evaluators generally try to present their findings in such a way as to encourage accommodations. Staff should be able to recognize when an expert is needed to objectively interpret data and make recommendations.

Good decision-making for ADA accommodation requests requires judgments that are informed, consistent and fair - to ALL examinees. What may seem like a harmless request for extra testing time or a private testing location may, in fact, shift the balance in favor of the accommodated examinee and be unfair to the other test-takers.

In light of the high-stakes value of credentialing examinations, good decisions must also must be defensible; candidates who depend upon their score for employment or promotion may challenge a decision to deny an accommodation request even if it is unsupported. While the vast majority of ADA cases are decided in favor of the employer, credentialing agency or other defendant, careful, informed decision-making, accompanied by a policy-based rationale is the best and most cost-effective - defense.

This article, written by Shelby Keiser, president of Keiser Consulting, appeared originally in NOCA News, November, 2004.


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