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Ultimate Guide to Disability Laws

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What Are Disability Laws?

Disability laws are laws that were created and are enforced to protect people who are disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the leading governance on disability laws. Individual states may pass their own disability statutes as long as these statutes are consistent with the ADA.

Other federal statutes prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities include the Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

  • Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of selling, renting, or denying an individual housing based on their disability. Owners are also required to make reasonable exceptions in their housing policies to afford equal housing opportunities to those with disabilities.
  • The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal assistance, and in both federal and federal contractor employment.
  • The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits air carriers from discriminating against qualified individuals with physical and/or mental impairments.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to provide free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible to children with disabilities.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC), is when an employer or other entity covered by the ADA, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because they have a disability. This discrimination may also occur against a person who no longer has a disability, but has a history of a disability or is believed to have a temporary physical or mental impairment.

What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a wide-ranging civil rights law that affords man protections to those with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against a disabled person in the areas of employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.

There are five federal agencies that enforce the ADA:

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
  • The Department of Labor,
  • The Department of Transportation,
  • The Federal Communications Commission, and
  • The Department of Justice.

How Does the ADA Protect Me?

Those protected under the ADA include people with both mental and physical medical conditions. The condition does not need to be severe or permanent for a person to be protected under the ADA.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a list of conditions that anyone can easily conclude to be a disability. These conditions include:

  • Hearing impairment/deafness
  • Blindness
  • Mental disability
  • Partial or complete missing of limbs
  • Mobility impairment requiring the use of a wheelchair
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessed compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia

Other mental or physical conditions may be included with this list depending on the individual’s symptoms when that individual is not taking preventative measures, such as medication or therapy, to mitigate those symptoms. Certain states, such as New Jersey and Iowa, also classify pregnancy as a temporary disability.

The ADA prohibits both private and public employers from discriminating against a person with any of the disabilities classified above at any stage of the employment process including the following stages:

  • Applications
  • Interviews
  • Testing
  • Hiring
  • Job Assignments
  • Evaluations
  • Termination
  • Promotion

The ADA also protects against discrimination of a person simply because that person is related to or associated with someone who is disabled.  

What Are Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA?

In addition to protecting against acts of discrimination, the ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Under the ADA, a “reasonable accommodation” is a change to the work environment, schedule, or procedures to help a disabled employee perform essential job functions or major life activities in the workplace.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Making existing facilities usable by disabled employees, including modifying the height of desks and equipment, magnifying computer screens, and installing telecommunications equipment for the hearing impaired;
  • Restructuring jobs permitting disabled employees to work four ten hour shifts a week so that they may use a day during the week for medical treatment or therapy;
  • Providing reasonable time off for employees to receive medical treatment without fear of losing their job; and,
  • Transferring an employee to the same job in a different location so that employee can be in a location with better medical care.

The accommodation must be reasonable in light of the nature of the employee’s work and work environment and cannot impose and undue hardship on the employer.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you have a disability and feel you have been discriminated against by your employer or by a potential employer, an employment attorney can help you through the complicated process of filing your claim and ensuring your rights are protected.

Photo of page author Kirin McKenna

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-07-2017 12:05 AM PST

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