People with disabilities experience widespread discrimination, especially in the workplace. Of the 61 million adults in America who are living with a disability, only 17.9% of them are gainfully employed. And of the ones who are employed, 29% are only working part-time. This is a combination of many factors, including a lack of public education and understanding, institutional bias against people with disabilities, and fear and misinformation about people with disabilities.
Access to gainful and meaningful employment affects every area of your life from your ability to pay for housing and live independently to your overall quality of life and general satisfaction. Without gainful employment, it’s extremely difficult—if not impossible—to live independently. People with disabilities who are fully capable of being productive and innovative employees are not being allowed the opportunity based only on their disability status.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against qualified candidates because of a disability. And yet, this discrimination takes place every day, both consciously and unconsciously. Understanding the rights of people with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities can help hold companies accountable and ensure that people with disabilities are receiving fair and equal treatment.
Which Employers Are Covered by the ADA?
According to the ADA, job discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal for:
- Employment agencies
- Labor organizations and labor-management committees
- State and local governments
- Private employers
This is meant to cover pretty much every type of employer in the United States. In certain cases, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces violations of the ADA. If the employer—government or private—has 15 or more employees, the EEOC is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination laws.
If the accused employer is a state or local government, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for the investigation and enforcement activities.
Examples of Workplace Discrimination Against People with Disabilities
Defining and prosecuting disability discrimination can be difficult because you have to prove both action and intent. Some people with disabilities experience some form of discrimination every day but have just accepted it as a normal part of their work life. At Disability Rights Arkansas, we believe that everyone has the right to meaningful, gainful employment in a safe and respectful workplace environment.
These are just a few examples of disability discrimination, but they may help you spot discrimination against you, a friend, or a coworker in a similar situation:
- Derogatory jokes, gestures, or comments about disabilities from clients, coworkers, or a boss
- The refusal to hire, promote, or adequately compensate because of a disability when they are fully capable of doing the job
- The refusal to make reasonable and appropriate accommodations to the workplace or workflow, so that there is an equal opportunity to succeed
- A demand from an employer to discuss or disclose a disability when accommodation has not been asked for
This is by no means a complete list of the ways in which people with disabilities are discriminated against in the workplace. If you believe that you or your loved one is being discriminated against for their disability, contact Disability Rights Arkansas for more information about your options.
Defining “Reasonable Accommodation”
Many employment laws for people with disabilities center on accommodations. Without certain accommodations, people with disabilities may not have an equal opportunity to succeed. Accommodations are not “special treatment.” They are a way to level an even playing field.
For example, imagine that you broke your leg. Suddenly, you are unable to drive to work. Instead of firing you for something that you have no control over, your boss would likely allow you to work from home or help you find a way to get to work. If you were able to get to work, your coworkers would probably help you by picking up dropped items and holding open doors. This is the heart of accommodation—simple respect for the needs of other people.
Reasonable accommodation is defined by the ADA as “any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.”
Examples of reasonable accommodations include modification of equipment and devices, restructuring of job duties, modified or part-time work schedules, adjusting training materials and company policies, providing interpreters, allowing space for caretakers and assistants, making physical changes to the workplace to make it more accessible.
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for all applicants and employees with a disability. The only exception is if the employer can prove an “undue hardship.” Undue hardship means that it would be extremely expensive or difficult to make the accommodation.
However, most accommodations are completely free for employers to make because they only require changes to policy and procedure. For instance, allowing a certain position to work remotely to accommodate mobility issues.
What Rights Do People with Disabilities Have in the Workplace?
The individual rights of people with disabilities are the same as every other human. In the workplace, this means the right to a safe, harassment-free work environment, access to equal pay, and the ability to advocate for themselves. The ADA covers all employment practices, including:
- Hiring and firing
- Job assignment
- Time off
- Medical and family leave
What You Can Do About Disability Discrimination
If you or a loved one is experiencing discrimination in the workplace because of a disability, contact Disability Rights Arkansas today. We advocate for employment rights for people with disabilities and can direct you to the right resources based on the specifics of your case.
Learn more about the rights of people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities through Disability Rights Arkansas. As part of our mission, we offer as many resources as possible on how to advocate and support people with disabilities.