|The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
is commonly believed to be a law about the rights of people with physical
disabilities. However, the law is also for people with psychiatric disabilities.
It forbids discrimination against people with both physical and mental
disabilities in employment, transportation, public facilities, and public
The employment requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act
are especially important for people with psychiatric disabilities.
This is because many employers share society's fear, prejudices, and
lack of information about mental illness.
According to the ADA, an "individual with a disability"
is a person who:
- has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits
one or more of his/her major life activities;
- has a record of such an impairment; or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
|To be protected under the ADA, an individual must prove that
he or she passes this three-pronged test. When a disability severely
affects an individual's physical abilities (for example, paralysis
or a severe vision or hearing impairment), this may not be difficult.
The task is harder for people with "hidden" disabilities
(such as psychiatric disabilities) that are not so easy to identify.
To be protected by the ADA's employment requirements, it is not enough
to be an individual with a disability. Rather, the ADA prohibits employment
discrimination against "qualified individuals with disabilities".
A qualified individual with a disability is an individual
with a disability who meets the skill, experience, education, and
other job-related requirements of a position held or desired, and
who, with or without reasonable accommodations, can perform the essential
functions of a job.
What is meant by "reasonable accommodations"? Accommodations
are changes to the work environment or the way things are usually
done that allow an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment
There are many reasonable accommodations that may be useful to people
with psychiatric disabilities. Examples are restructuring job tasks,
providing self-paced workloads and flexible hours, furnishing written
job instructions, and allowing time off for professional counseling.
An accommodation is not considered reasonable if it creates an "undue
hardship" for the employer. Undue hardship refers not only to
financial hardship, but also to accommodations that are overly extensive
or disruptive, or that would change the nature or operation of a business.
The ADA is a legal tool to fight discrimination. Any person who believes
he or she has experienced employment discrimination based on a psychiatric
disability has a right to file an administrative "charge"
or "complaint" with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) or a state or local anti-discrimination agency.
more about the EEOC and disability discrimination.
The U.S. Department of Justice also maintains a website (ADA Home
Page) that provides a wide range of information about the Americans
with Disabilities Act. The site provides assistance for people with
disabilities and for employers.
For general information about the ADA, answers to specific technical
questions, free ADA materials, or information about filing a complaint,
the federal government also provides the following ADA Information