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Defining "disability" in employment discrimination claims

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that grants protections to people with disabilities in several areas, including housing, public services, public spaces and - of course - employment.

The first step to claiming disability discrimination under the ADA is showing disability. Under federal law, a disability is defined as a condition or long-term injury that has a significant impact on a person's ability to participate in "major life events."

This definition focuses on what a disability does to a person, not on any specific conditions or diagnoses. That casts a broad net, which can make it either easier or more difficult to show that someone is disabled.

If a person is in a wheelchair, wears a hearing aid or has another, clearly visible impairment they often won't have trouble demonstrating disability. But there are a variety of conditions that manifest themselves in different ways and can have serious implications for a person's everyday life and not all of them are as apparent. The law also provides protections to people who are not actually disabled but are perceived to be by their employers.

Employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" to employees with disabilities if the job has physical demands the employee cannot perform. For example, providing ergonomic furniture or a closer parking space may be considered reasonable accommodations.

If you have been treated unfairly in the workplace because of a disability, your race, age, gender or other protected characteristic, consider contacting an experienced employment law attorney. He or she can work with you to understand your claim, represent your interests and fight for your rights.

Source: Law & Daily Life, "What is a 'Disability' Under the ADA?" Dec. 3, 2012

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