The Americans with Disabilities Act at 22. Has anything really changed?

When the Americans with Disabilities Act passed 22 years ago, it was hailed as a huge step toward equality in the workplace for those with disabilities. However, statistics show that this may not be the case. In fact, one study indicates that in 2010, only one in five people with disabilities were employed, while those without disabilities had a 59 percent rate of employment.

What is the ADA?

The ADA is designed to promote equality in the workplace by prohibiting employers from discriminating against those with disabilities during the hiring process, as well as discriminating against current employees. For purposes of the law, workers are considered disabled if:

  • They have a mental or physical impairment that affects their ability to perform certain tasks, including seeing, walking, talking, hearing, breathing, and taking care of themselves.
  • They had an impairment in the past.
  • They are perceived to have a physical or mental impairment, even if they do not.

If someone is identified as disabled under this law, employers are prohibited from engaging in the following conduct.

Hiring. When interviewing applicants, an employer is not allowed to ask about a potential employee's disability status and cannot use disability status to deny someone a position. However, an employer can ask whether or not a candidate can perform the essential duties of the position.

In addition, employers are not allowed to require that candidates take a medical examination during the hiring process and cannot make passing a medical exam a condition of getting the job. However, the company can take the health of a potential employee into account if being in good health is a requirement for the job, such as when a job's duties require that the employee be able to lift heavy boxes or stand up for long periods of time.

Accessibility. When organizations have employees with disabilities working for them, they are required to provide reasonable accommodations to help workers perform their job duties. These accommodations include modifying equipment that is used at the job, providing interpreters as needed, allowing employees to work flexible work schedules, and restructuring jobs or assigning employees to another position in the company.

If you are discriminated against on the job

If you have been the victim of discrimination on the job because of a disability, or a perceived disability, contact a qualified employment law attorney. You may be eligible to receive compensation for what you have been through, and an attorney can advise you of your rights and help you with the legal process.