Twenty five years ago, President George H. W. Bush signed the landmark Americans With Disabilities ACT (ADA) into law. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and governmental activities. Five federal agencies enforce the provisions of the ADA. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the regulations regarding employment.
Employment issues appear to be of large concern to those of us with Moebius syndrome who are about to enter the workforce (or are already in it). This article will focus on the ADA’s provisions regarding employment. In addition to the ADA, there are other legal protections from discrimination based on disability. For example, Executive Order 11478 prohibits employment discrimination and requires affirmative action on various bases, including disability, by the federal government. Also, some state and local governments have their own anti-discrimination statutes regarding disability.
Employment discrimination is prohibited against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” This includes applicants for employment and employees. An individual is considered to have a disability if he/she 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. The important part of this for many of us with Moebius syndrome is that this definition protects individuals who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment, even though they may not have such an impairment. For example, this provision would protect a qualified individual with a severe facial difference from being denied employment because an employer feared the “negative reactions” of customers or co-workers, or perhaps regarded this individual as being mentally impaired.
ADA has provisions about employers providing “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities who either seek employment or may already be employed. A job accommodation is a reasonable adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform job duties. Accommodations may include specialized equipment, facility modifications, adjustment to work schedule or job duties, as well as a range of other creative solutions. Employers are only required to accommodate a “known” disability of a qualified applicant or employee. This requirement will generally be triggered by a request from an individual with a disability who may be able to suggest an appropriate accommodation.
When applying for employment, you are not required to disclose the fact that you have a disability. It is also a violation of the ADA for an employer to ask you if you have a disability. However, they may ask you if you are able to perform certain essential functions of a job and may even ask you to demonstrate this ability. The scope of the ADA was broadened with the passage of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAA) in 2008. The ADAA overturned a series of Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the ADA in a way that made it difficult to prove that an impairment is a “disability.”
For additional information on the ADA, visit the U. S. Department of Labor website and go to “disability resources.” You can also call the ADA Information Line at 800 514 0301.
Roland Bienvenu retired from the human resources field in 2013 and resides in Sugar Land, Texas, just outside of Houston. He is a former member of the Moebius Syndrome Foundation board of directors.