In the summer of 2020, we celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, and its 30 years of change in American society. But 30 years later, what does that mean to the workforce of today? How far have we come for individuals with Autoimmune Disease and chronic illness? What changes need to be made going forward?
The information provided on this website is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. This information has NOT been evaluated by the FDA. This website is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of a physician. The reader should regularly consult their doctor in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention. Full Disclosure Policy, Legal Clause, and Terms and Conditions – Click HERE.
The ADA, 30 Years, the Workforce, and Chronic Illness
The purpose of this article is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with addressing the ADA specific to the Autoimmune and chronic illness community in the workplace.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act
- President George H.W. Bush’s ADA Speech
- ADA and the Workplace – Title 1
- ADA, Chronic Illness, the Workplace, and Next Steps
- Workplace Resources for Employers + the Autoimmune and Chronic Illness Communities
The Americans with Disabilities Act
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.”
Imagine… Thriving in the workplace with Autoimmune Disease! Click below…
President George H.W. Bush’s ADA Speech
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush spoke to thousands of individuals, including many with disabilities, who were gathered on the South Lawn of the White House and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
I wanted to include some of the highlights because it was such an important speech and landmark day in our history. Here are the highlights of his speech.
“Across the breadth of this nation are 43 million Americans with disabilities. To all of you, I just want to say your triumph is that your bill will now be law, and that this day belongs to you. On behalf of our nation, thank you very, very much.”
“With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom. This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities — the first. Its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.”
“Our success with this act proves that we are keeping faith with the spirit of our courageous forefathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” These words have been our guide for more than two centuries as we’ve labored to form our more perfect union. But tragically, for too many Americans, the blessings of liberty have been limited or even denied. The Civil Rights Act of ’64 took a bold step towards righting that wrong. But the stark fact remained that people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination, and this was intolerable. Today’s legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream. Legally, it will provide our disabled community with a powerful expansion of protections and then basic civil rights. It will guarantee fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy. And then, specifically, first the ADA ensures that employers covered by the act cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Second, the ADA ensures access to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and offices. And third, the ADA ensures expanded access to transportation services. And fourth, the ADA ensures equivalent telephone services for people with speech or hearing impediments.”
“I also want to say a special word to our friends in the business community. You have in your hands the key to the success of this act, for you can unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when freed, will enrich us all. I know there have been concerns that the ADA may be vague or costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We’ve all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation, and we’ve been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred.”
“This act does something important for American business, though — and remember this: You’ve called for new sources of workers. Well, many of our fellow citizens with disabilities are unemployed. They want to work, and they can work, and this is a tremendous pool of people. And remember, this is a tremendous pool of people who will bring to jobs diversity, loyalty, proven low turnover rate, and only one request: the chance to prove themselves. And when you add together Federal, State, local, and private funds, it costs almost $200 billion annually to support Americans with disabilities — in effect, to keep them dependent. Well, when given the opportunity to be independent, they will move proudly into the economic mainstream of American life, and that’s what this legislation is all about.”
“Our problems are large, but our unified heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And in our America, the most generous, optimistic nation on the face of the Earth, we must not and will not rest until every man and woman with a dream has the means to achieve it.”
“And today, America welcomes into the mainstream of life all of our fellow citizens with disabilities. We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences, for your past courage and your future dreams.”
“With, again, great thanks to the Members of the United States Senate, leaders of whom are here today, and those who worked so tirelessly for this legislation on both sides of the aisles. And to those Members of the House of Representatives with us here today, Democrats and Republicans as well, I salute you. And on your behalf, as well as the behalf of this entire country, I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say:”
“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. God bless you all.”
Watch the speech on YouTube below.
ADA and the Workplace – Title 1
Title 1 of the ADA of 1990 covers disability discrimination at work. According to the EEOC:
“Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. The ADA’s nondiscrimination standards also apply to federal sector employees under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and its implementing rules.
An individual with a disability is a person who:
- 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.
A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
- Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations vary depending upon the needs of the individual applicant or employee. Not all people with disabilities (or even all people with the same disability) will require the same accommodation.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on disability or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADA.”
Imagine… Thriving in the workplace with Autoimmune Disease! Click below…
ADA, Chronic Illness, the Workplace, and Next Steps
Since this law passed 30 years ago, we have made tremendous strides in the workplace. Individuals who previously could not work are now able to be productive members of society. Buildings are accessible, along with the transportation to get to work and disabled parking spaces. Service dogs and interpreters are accepted. Ramps and braille are standard.
As we entered the digital age, websites and technology have even greater advanced accessibility.
And yet, wage gaps and disparities still exist.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, less than 14% of workers with disabilities seek reasonable accommodations.
According to the Partnership of Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), people with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed.
We still have a long way to go. Especially for those who have an Autoimmune Disease, chronic illness, or other invisible disabilities covered under the ADA. As I transition to focus on these communities, I always give the disclaimer that anything I say is not to undermine or negate those with physical disabilities. It’s only to highlight the unique challenges that individuals with invisibilities face.
Many individuals with legally protected invisible disabilities under the ADA such as Autoimmune Disease, chronic illness, and mental illness still face incredible stigma in the workplace. If you can’t see the disability, it doesn’t exist, right?
How does an employee explain a flare-up?
How does an employee explain that they feel “off”?
How does an employee explain chronic pain or chronic fatigue?
We are met with:
“Suck it up, buttercup. Drink more coffee, get your a$$ out of bed, and get back to work.”
“Fortunately” (uuuggghhh I so hate using that word) the pandemic of 2020 equaled the playing field with telework. Even if it’s just a little bit.
The #1 reasonable accommodation for those with a chronic illness is a flexible schedule or the ability to work from home. Before March 2020, these requests were often denied or there was a need to require massive amounts of documentation and explanations. Now, working from home has become the gold standard for those with office jobs. For those in physical locations, extreme safety measures have been provided. “Compromised immune” and “Immunocompromised” have become the lexicon of who we need to protect. Telework and flex-work jobs are rising in numbers.
Right now, we are riding high on the empathy factor.
The workplace has made great strides, but it still has far to go. We need to take action to ensure that these accommodations will continue for this protected community once things get back to “normal”, or whatever that looks like in the future.
I’m excited to see progress. And I’m even more excited to be a part of positive change going forward.
Workplace Resources for Employers + the Autoimmune and Chronic Illness Communities
Are you Inspired?
Be sure to download your FREE Resource Guide and Thrive in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease!
Love, hugs, and cheers to 30 years!
This article and website contain affiliate links and ads which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and make a purchase. Any information on this website is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please consult your doctor for medical advice. We believe in conscious capitalism and the American Dream. Full Disclosure Policy, Legal Clause, and Terms and Conditions – Click HERE.