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Disability Discrimination Basics

Disability discrimination occurs when a person with a disability faces different or unequal treatment based on their disability. Discrimination arises in many situations.

What amounts to a disability may vary depending on applicable laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a significant federal law.

A person is "disabled" under the ADA if they have a physical or mental impairment limiting a "major life activity." Major life activities include walking, talking, seeing, and learning. The ADA also protects people who are not disabled but are perceived as disabled.

Where and When Can Disability Discrimination Occur?

Disability discrimination can take place in many different settings. It occurs most often in the following:

  • Employment: This includes failure-to-hire claims. It arises when a job applicant is otherwise qualified but isn't hired due to disability. Employment discrimination also includes an employer's failure to make reasonable accommodations for a disability.
  • Education: This includes claims that a student with a disability was denied equal access to educational programs. This also includes claims that a school didn't provide an individualized education to a disabled student.
  • Housing: This includes claims for refusal to negotiate with a disabled person seeking housing. This also includes claims involving different lease or contract terms based on a tenant's disability. You can claim housing discrimination based on a lender refusing to extend a housing loan due to disability.
  • Access to Buildings and Businesses: This includes claims that a business didn't serve a customer based on disability. It also includes cases where a disabled customer can't access goods or services.
  • Transportation: This includes claims that a transportation company failed to accommodate a disabled passenger. This also includes claims that a disabled passenger can't access transportation services.
  • Health Care: This includes claims that providers denied treatment based on a person's disability.

Other settings in which disability discrimination occurs include private schools, social services, and public accommodations.

Laws Prohibiting Disability Discrimination

Most laws guaranteeing civil rights originate at the federal level. This is true for laws relating to the rights of people with disabilities.

These laws are created through legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has been subject to amendments that expand its protections.

Title I of the ADA governs employer requirements. Title II addresses state and local government activities.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another federal law prohibiting disability discrimination. It applies to the federal government and federal agencies.

It also applies to programs receiving federal financial assistance. The law also has affirmative action requirements.

Civil rights have also been defined and interpreted through federal court decisions. That includes U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

States also pass their own civil rights laws. These are often like those at the federal level. Laws in states like New York may vary from those in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere. Local government can enact ordinances and disability rights laws.

Protecting Your Rights

There are various agencies responsible for enforcing nondiscrimination laws. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is one of those agencies. It has the primary authority to enforce the ADA in the employment context.

Depending on the context, the following agencies may also be responsible for enforcing laws:

  • Department of Health
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • Federal Communications Commission

Demonstrating undue hardship can protect an organization from a qualified individual's failure-to-accommodate claim.

Get a Lawyer's Help With Your Disability Discrimination Claim

Do you believe you've suffered a civil rights violation on the basis of disability? Are you experiencing harassment based on your developmental disability?

Did an employment agency refuse to hire you because you required a sign language interpreter? If so, speaking with an experienced civil rights attorney is the best place to start.

Important decisions related to your case can be complicated. A civil rights attorney will consider all aspects of your disability rights case.

An attorney can explain your options to you to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. You'll find out whether you need to file a complaint with a federal agency before going to court. Protect your human rights.

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Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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