Mental-Health Related Disabilities and Reasonable Accommodations

Picture 6May is National Mental Health Month. Given that AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn & Serve programs have service members with non-apparent disabilities, including members with mental health related disabilities, information and suggestions for providing reasonable accommodations are shared provided below.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health “an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—about one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.”

Mental health related disabilities “refer collectively to all diagnosable mental [conditions]…[which] are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning”(Goldman, 1999).

Qualified service members with mental health related disabilities can make valuable contributions to your service program and to the community. Some members may require reasonable accommodations. It is important to let all of your service members know that they may request a reasonable accommodation at any time; before the interview, before and after an offer of a position has been made and/or accepted, and throughout their term of service. Reasonable accommodations should be developed based on a service member’s individual needs and any information regarding a service member’s disability should always be kept confidential.

Reasonable Accommodation ideas regarding mental health related disabilities include:

  • Flexible schedule or flexible leave based on a member’s needs
  • Allow member to work from home if necessary
  • Reduce distractions by providing a private work space or allow for noise reducing headphones
  • Encourage the taking of breaks as needed
  • Divide service plan into smaller tasks and goals
  • Increase natural light or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Allow service member to tape record meetings for easy recall and remind them of important deadlines
  • Provide positive feedback and reinforcement
  • Maintain open communication with service member throughout their service experience

Many of the accommodations listed above would benefit service members with and without mental health related disabilities, within your organization.

How does your organization let service members know they may request a reasonable accommodation at any time?

How does your organization provide a welcoming environment to all service members?

Please share your experience so that we all can learn. Send responses to Sarah Kaplan at sarah.kaplan [at] umb.edu and they will be compiled for a future Inclusion Weekly. For further resources on mental health related disabilities and reasonable accommodations, please visit:

We always look forward to serving you! Please feel free to contact us with any disability inclusion questions and requests for information at NSIP [at] umb.edu or 888-491-0326 (V/TTY). Visit our website for a list of trainings offered by NSIP.

The National Service Inclusion Project is a cooperative agreement (08TAHMA001) between the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston in collaboration with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Association on Higher Education and Disability, National Council on Independent LivingNational Down Syndrome Congress. Information contained in this email is for informational purposes only and does not imply endorsement from the National Service Inclusion Project or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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