The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted July 26th, 1990, over 30 years ago. This law was designed to increase accessibility for people with disabilities. The ADA is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While the ADA covers every aspect of society from employment to public services and accommodations to telecommunications, this post will focus on the employment rights provided by this act.
WHAT IS A DISABILITY?
The ADA defines what qualifies as a disability. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. This definition also applies to a person who has a record of a disability. Finally, a person who is regarded as having an impairment, meaning a person that is discriminated against because someone thinks that their impairment (or perceived impairment) is limiting is also protected by the ADA. A major life activity can include, but is not limited to, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, speaking, learning, reading and working. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor does one exist.
Some disabilities are obvious, such as visibility impairments, mobility disabilities (using a wheelchair or other mobility aids), and deafness. There are also other disabilities that are not as obvious, such as learning disabilities and psychological/psychiatric disabilities. The ADA can apply to various learning disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia if the symptoms are enough to limit the person’s major life activities. Psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia also can be considered disabilities, as long as the symptoms are limiting in some capacity. It is important to point out that regardless of the disability, active self-advocacy is the best way to ensure your protections under the ADA.
WHO IS PROTECTED BY THE ADA?
In order to be protected under the ADA, you must have a disability as defined above. You must also be a qualified individual, which means that you can perform the essential functions of the employment position with or without accommodation. The employer is the one that defines the essential functions either verbally or with a written description. You also have to meet any other defined criteria such as education and work experience requirements. If you are a qualified individual, then you must be considered for the position along with any other applicants.
All of these rights are also afforded to anyone who is directly related to or a caretaker of someone who is defined as having a disability. So, you can be protected against discrimination if your child, spouse, or parent is someone who has a disability.
WHAT DOES THE ADA PROTECT YOU FROM?
A person who is protected under the ADA cannot be discriminated against during the job application process. Discrimination can include limiting or classifying a job applicant or employee in a way that affects the applicant’s job prospects or opportunities. This can be as overt as refusing to finish an interview with that person or refusing to hire them on the basis of their disability. It can also be as subtle as not having an accessible flyer with easy-to-read wording placed in a location that is accessible. Inaccessible application processes or websites are also prohibited. Testing also cannot include any criteria that may identify disabilities unless that job requires the ability to do a certain task. For example, unless the job requires 20/20 vision, a test that excludes applicants based on their visual acuity is not legal.
Employers are also not able to ask whether you have a disability during the application process, but they can ask whether you need an accommodation in order to complete the application or interview. These points will be discussed in further detail on in future posts which will detail how and when to request accommodations during the application process as well as how to prepare for an interview as a person with a disability.
Written by Kathryn Cusimano
DISCLAIMER: The Career Center is not engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice. The general information on our site is for basic informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice of any kind.