Who Is Protected?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was designed to keep people with disabilities from being discriminated against, both in the workplace and in general, as far as businesses being accessible to them. The penalty for all public businesses with 15 or more full-time employees, currently the only major stipulation, is steep, with fines potentially in the tens of thousands and probable litigation for the incentive to comply. Under the existing law, if you are on record as having a physical or mental disability that significantly (as opposed to mildly) limits you from performing a major life activity (i.e. hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning or working), or if your employer believes you have a disability, even if you do not. If you fall into this description, you are already protected by the ADA, and do not have to apply for it. Incidentally, the law also covers anyone who is discriminated against because of their relationship (or association with) a disabled person. So if you have a disability but are still able and qualified to do a job, with or without a reasonable accommodation, you are protected by the ADA. First you must meet 2 criteria:
- You must meet the employer's standard requirements for the position, for example education, skills, experience, licenses, etc.
- You must be able to perform the essential tasks of the job, with or without a "reasonable accommodation". Essential tasks are the primary functions of the job, which you must be able to perform on your own or with a reasonable accommodation.
OK, so what is considered a "reasonable accommodation"? (I mean really, the wording on some of this appears almost intentionally vague, but that's a government document for you!) Here are some examples listed on the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) government department's website, of reasonable accommodations:
- providing or modifying equipment or devices
- job restructuring
- part-time or modified work schedules
- reassignment to a vacant position
- adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
- providing readers and interpreters
- making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities
That seems to just about cover everything! Some of these accommodations are alreadyrequired by the law, such as the accessibility alterations to make the facility in general, "readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities". To summarize, if you are qualified and able to perform the job duties described (basically like any job applicant), don't let your disability stop you from trying. Even the job application and hiring process must be equally accessible and unbiased for disabled individuals. If it isn't, for some reason, be sure to report the incident! The DOJ (Department of Justice) and the EEOC coordinate their efforts to handle these types of claims, but currently have significant waiting periods, so don't wait, report the incident(s) right when they happen.
*Information on where to report etc. can be found at the foot of this article.
You Have Protected Rights
So what exactly are your rights? First of all, it is against the law for employers to discriminate in all areas of employment, to include:
- job assignments
- lay off
- all other employment related activities
In addition, you cannot be fired or retaliated against for exercising or asserting your ADA rights at the workplace. Your employer or potential employer is not allowed to even ask you questions regarding your disability, or require you to take a medical examination, unless they require one after a job offer, as a noted requirement for anyone hired to that position. However, in this case, they still cannot reject you for the position due to any medical information about your disability that would be revealed in that medical examination, unless the information revealed deemed you unable to perform the essential tasks of the job. Therefore, if you know you are qualified for the position, and you are confident you can perform the essential duties either with, or without, a reasonable accommodation, don't let your disability stop you! Go apply for that job, and if you have any problems whatsoever, contact your local EEOC branch for help. (See information below.)
The employer can ask you if you will be able to perform said essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations. He or she can also ask you to describe, or even demonstrate, how you will perform them, with or without accommodation. The employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your disability if you can perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation. And the reality is, 58% of disabled people in the workforce do not need any sort of accommodation to perform their job, and of the ones who do, the accommodations typically cost around $500 or less, for an employer. (Who, yes, is required to provide this when necessary.) In addition, here is another quote from the EEOC government website: "The ADA requires that the employer provide any reasonable accommodation unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. If the cost of providing the needed accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employee must be given the choice of providing the accommodation or paying for the portion of the accommodation that causes the undue hardship." In other words, it's fairly difficult for an employer to refuse you a reasonable accommodation! There is literally no reason for you to be limited any longer, as far as getting a job or going anywhere you like, for that matter. We are working towards a world where accessible design is standard procedure, and therefore is inclusive of everyone. In conclusion, the answer to the question regarding how to apply for ADA protection is, if you have a legitimate disability, you don't! You are already protected. Also check out ADA Central for all your ADA protection signs. Unsure who is covered under ADA? Find out exactly who is covered under ADA today.
*To contact the EEOC, look in your telephone directory under "U.S. Government." For information and instructions on reaching your local office, call:
(800) 669-4000 (Voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TDD)
If you are within the Washington, D.C. 202 area code, call:
(202) 663-4900 (voice) or:
(202) 663-4494 (TDD)