What is a Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Millions of adults in the United States live with a disability, and many of these individuals are a part of the workforce. In some cases, a person’s disability might not have a large impact on their ability to work, while others might require reasonable accommodations that allow them to perform the functions of the job. Additionally, some employees with disabilities may be treated unfavorably in the workplace due to their disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 has protected employees with disabilities for over three decades. This civil rights law makes it illegal to discriminate against employees with disabilities and helps provide equal employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

However, many employees may be unfamiliar with the ADA and unsure of what disabilities are covered by it. Learn what is considered a disability under the ADA.

The Rules of the ADA

The part of the ADA enforced by the Equal Employment Commission prohibits job discrimination by:

  • All employers with 25 or more employees after July 26, 1992
  • All employers with 15 or more employees after July 26, 1994

For 30 years, the ADA has protected people with disabilities by prohibiting discriminatory practices and helping them regain control of their lives. Under the ADA, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against specially-abled individuals in:

  • Recruitment
  • Termination
  • Training
  • Assignments
  • Leaves
  • Benefits
  • Pay
  • Promotions

Additionally, it’s unlawful for employers to retaliate against individuals who assert their rights under the ADA.

What Disabilities Are Protected by the ADA?

Many disabilities are covered by the ADA. However, the ADA does not provide a detailed list of every condition that it covers, which can make it difficult to know whether or not you’re protected.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is someone who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” Because of this, an employee can be considered an individual with a disability under the ADA if they are perceived as having a disability, even if they do not.

If a temporary impairment or one that is episodic or in remission substantially limits one or more major life activities, it can still be a disability protected under the ADA.

Qualifications of the ADA

It’s worth mentioning that you must be qualified to perform the essential functions of a job to be protected under the ADA. This means:

  • You must satisfy the employer’s criteria for the job, like education, employment experience, skills, or licenses.
  • You should also be able to take on work central to your job role with or without reasonable accommodation. For example, a truck driver’s essential function is the ability to drive trucks.

Hence, if an employer refuses to hire you because your disability keeps you from doing things irrelevant to your position, it can count as discrimination. If with a reasonable accommodation, you still are not able to work, the ADA does not protect you. Speak to a disability discrimination lawyer about the list of disabilities covered by the ADA.

The ADA also only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, but employees who aren’t covered by the ADA may still be protected by state and local laws.

Substantially Limiting Impairments

For an impairment to be considered a disability protected under the ADA, it must substantially limit one or more major life activities. This means that not every impairment is covered by the ADA. A few examples of major disabilities include:

  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Intellectual disability with limited brain function
  • Partially or completely missing limbs/mobility impairments that require the use of a wheelchair
  • Major depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, traumatic brain injuries, schizophrenia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism
  • Respiratory, digestive, bowels, bladder, or circulatory disorders

Again, this list is not comprehensive. The ADA itself does not mention the type of disabilities it covers. However, if your impairment makes everyday life a challenge, there’s a fair chance it will be covered under the Act. A skilled disability discrimination lawyer will point you in the right direction.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability Under the ADA?

The term ‘reasonable accommodation’ often comes up in ADA-related discussions. But what is a reasonable accommodation for a disability?

Employees who have a disability covered by the ADA are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. This provides them with the equal opportunity to be hired for a job and perform the essential functions of that job successfully.

If the accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship, they aren’t required to provide it. To show that an accommodation would cause undue hardship, the employer must prove that it would be too expensive, large-scale, or disruptive to be adopted at their workplace.

Reasonable accommodations may vary depending on the situation. A few examples of reasonable accommodations include allowing a flexible schedule, providing assistive technology, changing job tasks, and making work areas more accessible. Other examples include:

  • Modifying exams and training material, such as allowing more time to take an exam, or letting the individual perform it orally instead of in writing.
  • Offering a reasonable amount of unpaid leaves for medical treatment.
  • Transferring the employee to the same job in a different location, so they can receive better medical care.

However, if an employee is perceived as having a disability they do not actually have, they aren’t entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

Contact Disability Discrimination Lawyers Who Can Help

The ADA gives civil protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. Employers cannot discriminate against qualified employees just because of their actual or perceived disability. Instead, they must make reasonable accommodations to help the employee adapt to their new environment and perform their duties diligently.

In addition to the ADA, state and local laws also protect employees with disabilities from discrimination. If you have been discriminated against for your disability or denied a reasonable accommodation, these actions and behaviors need to be stopped. At Bantle & Levy, our disability discrimination lawyers are committed to helping employees get justice after facing discrimination.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you through this difficult time.

Bantle & Levy

Lee Bantle is a partner at Bantle & Levy LLP. He has extensive legal expertise, admitted to the bars of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. With a distinguished academic background and clerkship experience, he has been recognized as a top-rated civil rights attorney and esteemed lawyer. In addition to his successful career, he has actively contributed to various legal organizations and serves as a faculty member for NYU's Annual Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges.

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