In 1990, Congress enacted groundbreaking legislation protecting the rights of disabled workers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) put employers on notice that they could no longer fire disabled employees willy-nilly just because they could not keep up with their non-disabled co-workers. Reasonable accommodations had to be provided to help level the playing field. For example, if an employee in a sedentary job sitting at a computer needed to take a few extra breaks to exercise their cramping legs due to a circulatory disability, they had a right to request such an accommodation.
Over the years, though, employers worked very hard to block disabled workers from even establishing the fact that they were disabled. Too often, employers dictated who they thought were disabled and who were not. Employers, rather than healthcare professionals, won this right to determine disability status through large lawsuits. [See Sutton vs. United Air Lines, Inc. (1999) and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. vs. Williams (2002).]
To counter this prejudicial and shameful behavior, Congress championed those less fortunate and enacted new legislation – the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 – to “Carry out the ADA’s objectives of providing a ‘clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination’ and clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination’ by reinstating a broad scope of protection to be available under the ADA.”
Even though the ADA has been amended, employers are not going to go out of their way to make sure that all employees are aware of their rights or the change in the law. I applaud Congressman Steny Hoyer’s tremendous effort in getting the Act passed. The problem is the legislation primarily speaks to “physical” disabilities. Under the Major Life Activities section, it lists abilities such as “performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, lifting, bending, etc.”
Although it clearly states that a “disability means a physical or mental impairment…” try getting an ADA accommodation from an employer based on a mental disability. Those of us diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, dissociative disorders, and others, get the clear message to “suck it up” because everyone else has problems.
Even if you are lucky enough to have your disability honored, insurance company’s questions also center around physical disabilities. I was asked by my insurance company whether or not I had problems washing my hair. I said, “It’s not what’s on top of my head that’s the problem. It’s what’s inside of my head.”
The amended ADA legislation needs to be strengthened to ensure that mental disabilities are accommodated just as strongly as physical disabilities for the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse struggling to keep their jobs.
You can contact Congressman Steny Hoyer’s office at 202-225-4131or email him and insist that an amendment be added to the “ADA Amendments Act of 2008” to protect the rights of people with mental health disabilities.” We can make a difference.