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Disability in the Workplace: Is my disability protected under the ADA?

Accessibility, Employment

By: Meaghan Kramer*

Job applicants and employees with disabilities are protected from employment discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA protects employees and prospective employees from discrimination in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, promotions, and compensation.

Is my disability protected under the ADA?

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who either:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. Has a record of such an impairment; or
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

What are “major life activities”?

The ADA defines “major life activities” to include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. The ADA also includes “major bodily functions” in this definition, which includes functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

As examples, federal regulations identify the following non-exhaustive list of conditions that almost always substantially limit the following major life activities:

  • deafness substantially limits hearing;
  • blindness substantially limits seeing;
  • an intellectual disability substantially limits brain function;
  • partially or completely missing limbs or mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair substantially limit musculoskeletal function;
  • autism substantially limits brain function;
  • cancer substantially limits normal cell growth;
  • cerebral palsy substantially limits brain function;
  • diabetes substantially limits endocrine function;
  • epilepsy substantially limits neurological function;
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection substantially limits immune function;
  • multiple sclerosis substantially limits neurological function;
  • muscular dystrophy substantially limits neurological function; and
  • major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia substantially limit brain function.

The types of impairments described in this section may also substantially limit major life activities aside from those listed above.

What does it mean to have “a record of such an impairment”?

Having “a record of such impairment” includes people who have recovered from a physical or mental impairment that used to limit one or more major life activities, but are no longer affected by the impairment. People who have recovered from a mental illness or cancer can fall into this category, and are entitled to protection under the ADA.

What does it mean to be “regarded as having such an impairment”?

Under the ADA, a person is “regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual is subjected to prohibited discrimination because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment.” For example, an employer may perceive that an employee has diabetes based on his or her diet, but the employee may have no such condition. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis that the employer regarded its employee as having such an impairment.

Additional Resources

If you have questions about whether your disability is covered by the ADA, you can review the EEOC Fact Sheet: Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act, or contact our intake department to set up an appointment.

This article is part of a five-part series that the DRAZ is posting to educate Arizonans with disabilities about their rights at work. Stay tuned to our blog for additional Disability in the Workplace posts, which will include information about covered employers, discrimination and harassment, reasonable accommodations, and the interactive process.

*Meaghan Kramer recently joined the Phoenix office of the Arizona Center for Disability Law. Before joining DRAZ, Meaghan spent 9 years in private practice, where she focused on employment law and litigation.

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