Non-Prejudicial Language for ADA Job Descriptions

Writing job descriptions that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is tricky. In your efforts to be clear, you can also be exclusionary. Here are tips for handling this delicate duty.

Take, for example, the requirement to be “able to walk” around the office. That language would be unnecessarily exclusionary if the actual requirement is just to be able to move around the office, from a desk to a file cabinet and back. That could easily be accomplished by, for example, an employee in a wheelchair who can’t “walk.”

Here are some tips on managing the wording for most common tasks and demands from the Office of Human Resources at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.

Wording for Time Required

Generally, Mott’s HR department suggests the following terms for describing the amount of time a task takes:

Task takes less than one-third of the time—describe as “seldom” to “occasionally”
Task takes one-third to two-thirds of the time—describe as “occasionally” to “frequently”
Task takes more than two-thirds of the time—describe as “constantly”

If the amount of time spent on a task or responsibility is “none,” then omit that task from the job description.

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Wording for Describing Physical Demands

The general idea here, as mentioned above, is to avoid unnecessary exclusionary words. Also, if a physical demand is not essential in the performance of the job, reference to that demand should be omitted.

Physical Demand

ADA-Compliant Words

Job Description Language Example

Stand or Sit

Stationary position

Must be able to remain in a stationary position 50% of the time.


Move, Traverse

The person in this position needs to occasionally move about inside the office to access file cabinets, office machinery, etc.

Use hands/fingers to handle or feel

Operate, Activate, Use, Prepare, Inspect, Place, Detect, Position

Constantly operates a computer and other office productivity machinery, such as a calculator, copy machine, and computer printer.

Climb (stairs/ladders) or balance

Ascend/Descend, Work atop, Traverse

Occasionally ascends/descends a ladder to service the lights and ceiling fans.

Stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl

Position self (to), Move

Constantly positions self to maintain computers in the lab, including under the desks and in the server closet.


Communicate, Detect, Converse with, Discern, Convey, Express oneself, Exchange information

The person in this position frequently communicates with students who have inquiries about their tuition bill or financial aid package.  Must be able to exchange accurate information in these situations.


Detect, Determine, Perceive, Identify, Recognize, Judge, Observe, Inspect, Estimate, Assess

Must be able to detect funnel clouds from long distances.


Detect, Distinguish, Determine

Occasionally must be able to distinguish sweet and bitter flavors when creating desserts for Applewood customers.

Carry weight, lift

Move, Transport, Position, Put, Install, Remove

Frequently moves Audio/Visual equipment weighing up to 50 pounds across campus for various classrooms and events needs.

Exposure to work

Exposed, Work around

Constantly works in outdoor weather conditions.

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In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll see why “other duties as assigned” doesn’t cut it for today’s job descriptions, and we’ll look at a unique new online system for managing all of your job descriptions.

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