Last month, someone found my blog by searching something like “is chronic illness covered by the ADA” and I immediately put this post on my editorial calendar. As a disabled person with multiple chronic illnesses who is public about all of this, I know my rights and what’s covered by the ADA, aka the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This is the law that protects disabled people from discrimination. So let’s get into what the protections are, who’s protected, how you’re protected, and more.
Disclaimer: I’m not a political specialist, lawyer, or a medical specialist. I’m a disabled person who has done research on the ADA.
About the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
What is the ADA? According to the ADA National Network, “The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public” (x). The bill and its protections are broken into 5 categories: employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous (x).
Some history of the ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act became law in 2009 (x). This second act altered the definition of “disability” (x). People with disabilities fought hard for the ADA; “people with disabilities sat in federal buildings, obstructed the movement of inaccessible buses, and marched through the streets to protest injustice” (x). It took a long time to make the ADA law; the first step was legally identifying discrimination against disabled people as discrimination, which happened in 1973 with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (x).
Who does the ADA protect? Anyone with a disability! It also covers people with mental illness. “The term mental illness is typically used in a medical context to refer to a wide range of conditions related to emotional and mental health. The term psychiatric disability is typically used in a legal or policy context to refer to impairments covered under the ADA” (x). Here’s something that you need to know, though: even if you don’t consider yourself disabled, if you have a condition, you’re protected. More specifically, “Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you don’t” (x). The part of that phrase that really gets me is “even if you don’t“. If your employer thinks you have a disability and discriminates, you are protected.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Protections
What are the protections? There are a couple of ways that you’re protected. One, when you’re applying for jobs, it’s illegal to ask if you’re disabled. I had no idea about this and was asked ALL the time when I was applying to jobs last year. “If you are applying for a job, an employer cannot ask you if you are disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. An employer can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask you to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, you will perform the duties of the job” (x – emphasis mine). Additionally, they can’t ask you to take a medical exam before you start the job (x). Two, once you’ve been hired, your employer can’t ask you to take a medical exam unless it’s related to your job and necessary for the job (x).
Three, “An employer cannot make up the cost of providing a reasonable accommodation by lowering your salary or paying you less than other employees in similar positions” (x). Now, if providing the accommodation would be an “undue hardship,” the employer can give the employee the option of paying for the accommodation themselves (x). Four, if you’re not disabled but someone related to you is, you’re protected to a certain extent. More specifically, “The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual, whether disabled or not, because of a relationship or association with an individual with a known disability” (x). So if your child is disabled and your prospective employer doesn’t want to hire you because you would have a disabled child on your health insurance, you’re protected by the ADA (x). Five, companies need to have their facilities be accessible. So if you have a physical disability, “An employer may be required to modify facilities to enable an individual to perform essential job functions and to have equal opportunity to participate in other employment-related activities” (x). AKA, if you use a wheelchair, your employer should make sure that your place of work is accessible.
What are the consequences for not complying? There are 2 main ways that you might pay the consequences of not complying with the ADA: a civil lawsuit or a DOJ fine. For the DOJ, “the maximum civil penalty for a first violation under title III from $55,000 to $75,000; for a subsequent violation the new maximum is $150,000” (x).
How are individuals or companies held accountable? Unfortunately, there’s no accessibility police that goes around and looks for people who aren’t complying with the ADA. Instead, if you think that you’ve been discriminated against, contact the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The tricky thing is that you have to file a charge of discrimination within 180 days of the alleged discrimination (x). So if something happened when you first started at a company but you wait until you leave the company years later to do something about it, the EEOC can’t necessarily do anything about it. On the other hand, “You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if there is a State or local law that provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability” (x).
What do you get if you were discriminated against? Basically, you’re entitled to the position you would have had if you hadn’t been discriminated against. Additionally, “You may be entitled to hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation, including reassignment. You may also be entitled to attorneys fees” (x).
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