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Disability Discrimination


images (1)There are more than 43 million people in the United States have physical or mental limitations or differences. These limitations are often called “disabilities.” In the past, these people have faced discrimination in society, education, medical care and in the workplace. This continues today, although there is now legislation to limit the discrimination and protect their rights.

Disability discrimination is sometimes hard to define, however. Even with the legislation, an individual with a disability being treated differently from able-bodied peers is not necessarily proof of discrimination. Unlike discrimination based on race, sex or culture, sometimes it is necessary for a person with a disability to be excluded from participation or otherwise treated in a manner different from those without their specific disability. This is often the counter-argument in disability discrimination cases. A Guide to Disability Rights Laws is available from the Department of Justice, and offers a comprehensive look at what constitutes discrimination.

The Legislation
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, known simply as the ADA, prohibits discrimination based on disability. The law was designed to protect people with disabilities and ensure future expansion to include other types of discrimination if they arise. The legislation is worded in a way that keeps people in mainstream society as much as possible, especially in healthcare, education and the workplace. Titles I and V in particular refer to discrimination in the workplace.

ADA Definition of “Disability”
In order to enforce ADA law, it is necessary to define “disability.” According to the legislation, there are 3 criteria that qualify a person as disabled. If a person has a physical, mental or cognitive impairment which “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” if they have a history of having this type of impairment, or if others regard them as having an impairment then they are considered disabled under the law.

It should be noted that this is a very different definition than used when determining if a person is disabled for Disability Benefits, Worker’s Compensation or Disabled Veterans benefits.

Disability discrimination comes primarily in the form of exclusion. This sometimes appears as segregation or as a lack of access to equal services, benefits and activities. Discrimination is particularly obvious in the workplace, although it can apply in many of the same ways to individuals with disabilities in society. The U.S. Department of Education also tracks similar types of discrimination in schools, and works to institute regulations and programs which prevent it.

The screening criteria for employment cannot include things that are not necessary for completing the job, and therefore should not rule out disabled individuals who have the actual ability to fulfill the position. All policies and procedures must treat employees and customers with disabilities in a manner that is equal to their able-bodied counterparts, and cannot place them at a disadvantage due to their disabilities.

If an applicant is disabled but otherwise qualifies for a position, the employer cannot treat him differently based on his disability. In some cases, however, the disability requires a different treatment. When this is case, the accommodations must be made “within reason.” Companies must also make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and customers, and refusing to do so is considered discrimination if disabled people do not have access to the same type and quality of services and activities.

Additional Resources
-Disabled World offers information and articles about disability discrimination.
-The United States Department of Labor has information of equal employment opportunities for disabled individuals.
-The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund is dedicated to legal advocacy and lobbying for those with disabilities.
-Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center hosts copies of laws, regulations, guidelines and other documents relating to disability discrimination.
-The National Disability Rights Network is a nonprofit membership organization for individuals with disabilities.

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