An about-face on disability
- By Milt x_Zall
- Jul 10, 2000
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued final regulations
that change previously issued guidance regarding people with disabilities.
The new regulations involve the Americans With Disabilities Act and
"mitigating measures" that individuals use to eliminate or reduce the effects
of an ailment. Examples of mitigating measures include medication and devices
such as hearing aids, walkers or canes.
"This revised guidance clarifies the legal standards for determining
when a person who uses mitigating measures meets the ADA's definition of
"disability,'" said Ida Castro, EEOC chairwoman.
The new rules rescind portions of an EEOC-issued interpretive guidance
that were not consistent with Supreme Court rulings made last year. In two
separate cases in 1999, the court ruled that any mitigating measures a person
uses to eliminate or reduce the effects of an ailment must be considered
in determining whether an individual has a disability and whether that individual
is entitled to ADA protection.
It's not enough to say that if a person has, for example, diabetes,
then the person has a disability. You have to take into account the medication
that the person is taking or any other aids that the person is using to
function normally. So if a person has diabetes that is fully controlled
by medication, then it is not reasonable for that person to claim to be
disabled as defined under the ADA or entitled to its protections.
Previous guidance by the EEOC said that mitigating measures should not
be considered in determining whether an individual has a disability. So
previously, a person with, say, high blood pressure might automatically
have been considered disabled. The EEOC's new regulations indicate that
the effect of medication on a person's ability to function must be considered.
The EEOC is advising its field officers to get the word out that each
case has to be evaluated individually.
The EEOC makes it plain that it is not saying that someone who takes
medicine for a particular condition is not considered disabled. What it
is saying is that the effect of the medicine on that individual's ability
to function has to be evaluated. The bottom line is that an individual can
still experience a substantial limitation in performing a major life activity
despite or because of the use of medicine or a walker, for example.
Although federal employees are not directly covered by the ADA — they
are technically covered by the Rehabilitation Act — in the past, the EEOC
has issued guidance making it clear that federal workers are to be treated
as if they are covered by the ADA, and any rulings by the EEOC concerning
the definition of disability under the ADA will apply to federal workers
seeking such coverage. The Supreme Court decisions and the new EEOC regulations
lessen the protection that federal workers will have under the provisions
of the ADA.
—Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]