Disability Accommodation

Click here to access the Guide to Disability Accomodation in PDF.

Disability Accommodation

As both an employer and a provider of public education, SFU is under an affirmative duty to accommodate persons with disabilities “up to the point of undue hardship.”  The Disability Accommodation in the Workplace Policy (GP40) responds to the University's obligations under the BC Human Rights Code to accommodate persons with disabilities. This policy explains how employees should proceed when seeking accommodation for disability.

We hope that the following FAQ’s will enhance your understanding of disability accommodation.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How is “disability” defined?

“Disability” is not defined in the B.C. Human Rights Code. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has said that a disability “impairs a person’s ability to carry out the normal functions of life to some degree and poses an impediment to a person’s participation in the economic or other areas of life [covered by the Code]”.1 A disability is involuntary and requires a certain degree of severity, permanence, and/or persistence.

SFU’s Accessibility for Students with Disabilities Policy (GP 26) defines a student with a disability as a person who:

  • Has been diagnosed by an appropriate professional as having: a mental health impairment; physical impairment; neurological impairment; learning disorder; or sensory impairment, any/all of which may be permanent or temporary and is likely to continue and may significantly interfere with educational pursuits; and
  • Experiences functional restrictions or limitations in their ability to perform the range of life’s activities; and,
  • May experience attitudinal and/or environmental barriers that hamper their full and self-directed participation in life. 

SFU’s Disability Accommodation in the Workplace Policy (GP 40), which applies to employees of SFU, defines a disability as a permanent or temporary physical, 

psychiatric or neurological impairment, whether congenital or resulting from injury or illness, which causes the individual to experience restrictions or limitations on their ability to perform life activities.  

2. How much accommodation is enough? What is meant by undue hardship? 

The law requires SFU to accommodate employees and students to the point of undue hardship. Accommodations are required to be reasonable, but not necessarily preferred/ideal. If providing a certain accommodation would result in undue hardship to the University, SFU has no obligation to provide that accommodation. What constitutes undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis, but the University would need to show that accommodating a disability would create unduly onerous conditions for it. Factors that are relevant to assessing undue hardship may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Availability of human resources and financial resources;
  • Disruption to the workplace, collective agreement, or learning or teaching environment;  
  • The effect of the accommodation on the rights or morale of other employees or students;  
  • The cost of the proposed accommodation; 
  • Impacts on efficiency or productivity; 
  • Impacts on the health or safety of the individual, other employees or students, or the general public; and,
  • SFU’s other legal obligations. 

Accommodation does not require post‑secondary institutions to lower the academic or non‑academic standards to accommodate students with disabilities or relieve a student of the responsibility to develop the essential skills and competencies expected of all students. As a result, not all accommodations will be possible for all programs or courses.   

Similarly, accommodation does not require an employer to create an unnecessary role, retain an employee who is unable to meet their core employment responsibilities despite accommodations, hire a candidate who does not meet the essential qualifications required for the position, or accommodate an employee’s repeated absences if such absence causes significant operational disruption to the point of undue hardship or are unrelated to a disability or any other protected ground under the B.C. Human Rights Code. These are only a few examples of undue hardship in the employment context. 

3. How do I request disability accommodation? 

If your request relates to a short-term routine illness (e.g., an absence due to a cold), you can work directly with your instructor or supervisor to determine a reasonable adjustment or concession.

For any requests relating to a disability, students must register with the Centre for Accessible Learning to request disability accommodation, and employees (staff and faculty) must submit a disability accommodation request to the Wellness & Recovery Office at rtwdm@sfu.ca. Employees are also encouraged to connect with their union or professional association representatives at any time for additional support or guidance when workplace accommodations are being pursued. 

The person requesting accommodation is expected to:

  • Communicate the need for accommodation; 
  • Cooperate by providing relevant and appropriate information to support the request for accommodation; 
  • Cooperate by undergoing a health assessment, if appropriate, to support the request for accommodation; 
  • Consider all proposals that effectively respond to the disability-related needs even if it is not preferred or considered perfect; and,  
  • Advise if accommodation arrangements need to be changed or have not worked as intended, and, if required, explore ways to modify the arrangements.

4. Do I have to share my personal medical information to receive an accommodation?

People may be reluctant to share personal medical information for many reasons, including a fear of being singled out and treated differently than others, a fear that asking for accommodation will have negative consequences, concerns about confidentiality, and/or the stigma associated with mental health disabilities or substance addictions.

SFU is entitled to receive sufficient medical information to determine a reasonable accommodation. When a person’s functional limitations are not readily apparent, SFU will need to obtain appropriate clarifying information to better understand an individual’s functional capacity as it relates to their work ability. The information sought will generally focus on the individual’s functional limitations and restrictions. Only information that is necessary for determining the accommodation will be requested, and it will only be shared with people who have a legitimate need to know.

If you refuse to provide adequate information or do not fully participate in the accommodation process, accommodation efforts will be suspended until there is sufficient cooperation from all involved parties. If this happens, SFU may have nevertheless fulfilled its duty to accommodate, as the duty to accommodate requires all responsible parties to actively participate in the accommodation process.  

5. I’m not happy with the accommodation offered to me. What should I do? 

Successful accommodation requires the collaboration of multiple parties, including the student or employee (and their union or professional association representative, if they so choose), the instructor or supervisor, and sometimes other impacted parties, such as classmates or co-workers. 

If you are not happy with the accommodation offered to you, consider whether: 

  • You have provided sufficient information to support your request. SFU is entitled to receive relevant medical information to determine a reasonable accommodation. If you refuse to supply relevant medical information, SFU may be legally permitted to end the accommodation process, leaving you without an accommodation or another remedy.
  • SFU has offered a reasonable accommodation, even if it is not perfect or your preferred option. If you reject reasonable accommodation, SFU may be legally permitted to end the accommodation process, leaving you without an accommodation or another remedy.  

You should communicate your concerns to your advisor in the Centre for Accessible Learning or the Wellness & Recovery Office. You may also contact the Human Rights Office to receive impartial, confidential advice. 

6. What should I do if I receive a request for disability accommodation from a student or colleague? 

If the request relates to a short-term routine illness (e.g., an absence due to a cold), and not a disability, you (the instructor or supervisor) can handle the request on your own, or with the support of the Human Rights Office, if you have any questions. You may contact the Centre for Accessible Learning (cal_admin@sfu.ca) if you have questions about whether the request relates to a short-term illness or a disability.

For any other requests, you should direct the individual to contact the Centre for Accessible Learning (if they are a student) or the Wellness & Recovery Office at rtwdm@sfu.ca (if they are an employee of SFU). You may also refer the individual to the Human Rights Office if they are reluctant to request accommodation for any reason.  

7. Is there a duty to accommodate when the student or employee is having performance problems? 

Performance problems can indicate that there may be a need to accommodate, even when the student or employee has not asked for an accommodation. As an instructor or supervisor, you are obligated in certain situations to initiate action to determine if an accommodation is needed, even if the student or employee has not asked for one. This is called the duty to inquire. 

You are encouraged to consult with the Human Rights Office or your Human Resources Business Partner for guidance. The following are some examples or signs that might require further inquiry to assess whether accommodation is needed: 

  • Feedback from others that the student or employee is behaving erratically; 
  • A sudden drop in attendance; 
  • An increase in lateness; 
  • Sudden changes in behaviour; or, 
  • Unusually poor academic or work performance. 

If you have noticed that a student or employee is exhibiting such behaviours, inform the individual of the behavioural change noted, tell them that there are resources and/or supports available to them through the Centre for Accessible Learning, Wellness & Recovery Office, and Human Rights Office, and advise them that you are open to working with them and taking direction from those resources, as necessary, to support them. If the individual did not wish to pursue the matter, document the steps you took to try to help them. You may also want to consider referring the student or employee to other support services, such as those listed on the Get Help page. 

8. Disability accommodation creates work for managers, professors, instructors, TAs and TMs. Has this been considered? 

The University recognizes that disability accommodation creates work for professors, instructors, TAs, TMs, managers, and supervisors. However, because the duty to accommodate is a legal requirement, everyone must do their part to ensure that every person has the opportunity to fully and freely live, learn, and work at the University. 

If you are requesting accommodation, keep in mind that there may be many requests for accommodation, and this may impact the accommodation options available to you. For this reason, it is important to register with the Centre for Accessible Learning or the Wellness & Recovery Office at the earliest possible opportunity.   

9. Is it lawful to not hire someone because they will require disability accommodation? 

Denying employment to a person because of a disability is discrimination contrary to the B.C. Human Rights Code, unless the denial is based on a bona fide occupational requirement. For example, if a job requires you to meet vision standards for legitimate safety reasons but you have impaired vision caused by a disability, an employer may lawfully refuse to hire you for that job. 

See our Guide to Discrimination in the Hiring Process for more information.  


If you are an SFU student who has questions about disability accommodation, please contact the Centre for Accessible Learning.

If you are an SFU employee who has questions about disability accommodation, please contact the Wellness & Recovery Office at rtwdm@sfu.ca

If you would like to discuss your questions or concerns about disability accommodation with another office, the Human Rights Office provides confidential and impartial advice, support, referrals, and information to students, faculty, and staff on all issues related to human rights, including accommodation. Contact us or visit our Get Help page for additional resources.