The Americans with Disabilities Act: What It Covers and Why It Matters
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a very important piece of legislation that exists to protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination. While this discrimination can be active, like an employer refusing to hire someone based on their disability, it can also occur passively. An example of this would be a lack of pedestrian ramps around the entrances of a shopping mall. Because it impacts so many areas of our society, it is important to understand which disabilities exactly the ADA covers so that people can receive the legal protection they deserve.
What is Considered a Disability Under The ADA?
The first part of the ADA's definition of disability says that an individual must have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This definition is broad, but for good reason. The ADA does not have an exhaustive list of which disabilities they cover, because there is such as broad spectrum of ways a person might be impacted by a condition they have. Instead, they offer this definition and some examples of impairments to give a general idea. They also make clear that an individual does not need to have a disability that is listed in order to be covered. The list the ADA has on their website, ada.gov, mentions specifically the following:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Cerebral palsy
- Deafness or hearing loss
- Blindness or low vision
- Mobility disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Gender dysphoria
This list should be used only as a reference for one's own conditions, not as something complete and unchanging. There are many, many disabilities the ADA does not explicitly mention that would fall under the law's jurisdiction.
The second part of the ADA's definition says that an individual must also have “a record of such impairment” or “be regarded as having such an impairment.” This is important, as it covers individuals who may not currently have a disability, but who have in the past or are likely to experience one in the future. It also protects those who are treated as if they have a disability when they do not. An example of this would be an employer refusing to hire someone because they think the person will get sick in the future and be unable to work.
What Does It Mean for Something to Substantially Limit a Major Life Activity?
The ADA defines “substantially limits” as “significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity when compared to the average person.” This is a higher standard than “materially and adversely,” which is how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines disability.
The ADA's definition of disability should not be used to determine whether an individual is covered under the law. Instead, it is best to consult with a lawyer who can help you understand how your specific disability would be viewed by the courts.
Why Does The ADA Matter?
The Americans with Disabilities Act is important because it provides a legal foundation for individuals who have been discriminated against due to their disability. In many cases, the Americans with Disabilities will be the basis for a lawsuit where an individual was unable to access something, sustained an injury, or some other harm.
For example, let's say you have a disability that prevents you from being able to walk long distances. You go to your local grocery store and find that the only parking spots available are in the back of the lot, with no designated handicap spots closer to the entrance. You park in one of these spots and start walking towards the store, but before you can make it to the entrance, your disability flares up and you fall, breaking your hand in the process. In this case, you may have a valid claim under the ADA because the grocery store failed to provide reasonable accommodations for your disability.
What Is NOT Considered a Disability?
While some of the following things might meet the definition the ADA has set, they are not recognized to be disabilities or impairments for one reason or another. It is important to be aware of these, too, to ensure false claims under the ADA are uncommon. This list, like the one before it, is also non-exhaustive.
- Homosexuality and bisexuality
- Compulsive gambling
- Gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments
- Physical characteristics (eye color, hair color, etc.)
- Common personality traits
- Psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs
These are only a few of the examples where an individual might not be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are unsure about your disability and whether or not it would be covered, the best course of action is to consult with a lawyer.
Actions for Employers under ADA
If an employee of a business claims to require accommodations for their disabilities and is unsure, it may be wise to err on the side of caution. The most obvious reason for this is to avoid lawsuits. Additionally, the Job Accommodation Network has found through a series of surveys that fulfilling these accommodations improved productivity, morale, employee retainment, and company diversity. On top of this, over 50% of the accommodations made costed the company no money at all to implement, with the remaining having a typical cost of only around $500. Given the positive impacts and low costs, it seems that making accommodations in cases where it might be unclear whether or not the employee has a disability could often be the best course of action for a business.
If you are an employer who needs help determining what, if any, accommodations to make for your employees, there are a few resources available. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers guidance on how to make accommodations, and the aforementioned Job Accommodation Network can provide specific suggestions for individual cases.
Victims of Disability Discrimination Under the ADA
If you feel that you have been or are being discriminated against due to your disability, the first step is always to try and resolve the issue internally. If that does not work, or if you do not feel comfortable doing so, seek legal advice as soon as possible. The lawyers at Napolin Accident Injury Lawyer have experience handling these types of cases, and we can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation at (866)627-6546.
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