Ultimate Guide to Disability Laws

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 What Are Disability Laws?

Disability laws were created in an effort to protect disabled people. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or “ADA,” is the leading governance on disability laws. Individual states can pass their own disability statutes as long as these statutes are consistent with the protections provided by the ADA. The ADA will be further discussed in detail later on.

Other federal statutes prohibiting discrimination against disabled people include:

  • The Fair Housing 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 status. Additionally, owners are required to make reasonable exceptions in their housing policies in order to provide equal housing opportunities to the disabled community;
  • The Rehabilitation Act Of 1973: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs that are conducted by federal agencies, or are receiving federal assistance. The Act also prohibits disability discrimination in both federal and federal contractor employment;
  • The Air Carrier Access Act: The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits air carriers from discriminating against qualified physical and/or mentally impaired people; and
  • The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires public schools to provide free and appropriate public education, in the least restrictive environment possible, to disabled children.

Disability discrimination refers to when an employer or other entity that is covered by the ADA unfavorably treats a qualified disabled person, who is either an employee or applicant, because the are disabled. Under this definition, discrimination may also occur against a person who is no longer disabled but has a history of a disability, or is believed to have a temporary physical or mental impairment. This definition is provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “EEOC.”

What Is The Americans With Disabilities Act?

Because most of America’s disability laws mirror or defer to the ADA, it is worth discussing in detail. The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal Act intended to combat discrimination against disabled people. More specifically, the ADA provides civil rights protections to the disabled community. An example of this would be how the ADA guarantees disabled people the right to equal opportunity in:

  • Employment;
  • Public accommodations;
  • Transportation;
  • Communications;
  • Governmental activities; and
  • Housing.

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.

Those who are protected under the ADA include people with both mental and physical medical conditions. It is important to note that the condition does not need to be severe or permanent in order for a person to be protected under the ADA.

The EEOC provides a list of conditions that may be considered a disability in terms of receiving ADA protection. These conditions include, but may not be limited to:

  • Hearing impairment;
  • Deafness;
  • Blindness;
  • Mental disability;
  • Partially or completely missing limbs;
  • Mobility impairment which requires 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”);
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”); and
  • Schizophrenia.

Most states 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. This includes but may not be limited to the following stages:

  • Applications;
  • Interviews;
  • Testing;
  • Hiring;
  • Job Assignments;
  • Evaluations;
  • Termination; and
  • Promotion.

Further, the ADA protects against discrimination of a person simply because that person is related to or associated with another disabled person.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations Under The ADA?

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

Some examples of reasonable accommodations include, but may not be limited to:

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

It is imperative to note that the accommodation must be reasonable in terms of the nature of the employee’s work and work environment. Any accommodations cannot impose undue hardship on the employer.

What Are Some Disability Laws That Address Housing Discrimination?

The provisions of the ADA strictly prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of disability. Additionally, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (or “HUD”) has passed several federal laws in order to enforce the ADA’s prohibitions. These laws include:

  • Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968: This law is more commonly known as the “Fair Housing Act.” It prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and disability;
  • Title II of the ADA: This specific section of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs, services, and activities that are provided or made available by public entities. HUD is the government agency responsible for enforcing Title II in terms of state and local public housing, housing assistance, and housing referrals; and
  • The Architectural Barriers Act (“ABA”): The ABA requires that buildings and/or facilities that are designed, constructed, altered, and/or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and usable by disabled people.

What Public Accommodations Are Provided By The ADA?

Title III of the ADA requires any entity that is open to the public to be accessible to disabled people. What this means is that if a public place is covered by the ADA, they are required to provide specific accommodations. Examples include:

  • Handrails;
  • Wheelchair ramps; and
  • Service animal exceptions to “no pet” policies.

Public places that are covered by Title III may also be required to provide devices or resources that allow those who have a vision, speech, or hearing disability to communicate effectively. An example of this would be how a library may need to install specific computer software in order to accommodate blind people. These standards will still apply even if an entity was constructed before the ADA was passed.

The following are some of examples of public places that may be subject to ADA requirements:

  • Restaurants;
  • Hotels;
  • Retail stores;
  • Sidewalks;
  • Public restrooms;
  • Schools;
  • Office buildings; and
  • Movie theaters.

Alternatively, places such as private clubs and religious organizations generally are not required to comply with the ADA. As such, they will not be required to offer public accommodations.

Do I Need An Attorney For Disability Discrimination?

If you are disabled and have experienced discrimination, especially in the workplace, you should consult with an experienced and local discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

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