During the last three years as a Disability Navigator, I have received many calls from people that have self diagnosed and feel that they should be receiving Social Security benefits for their disability. While I’m not the expert, I have learned to understand that the definition of “disability” can be complex and varies according to its context. When applying for Social Security disability benefits, disability means you can’t perform ANY job. Because there is an overwhelming amount of information that can be interpreted in different ways, I thought I would share with you my understanding of the definition of “disability” as it affects individuals in an employment context.
When people with disabilities are attempting to work, or as an employer who is interested in hiring a person with a disability, it is important to know and understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA makes it unlawful for an employer, with 15 or more employees, to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA.
The ADA defines “disability” in three parts. First, the individual has to show that their disability substantially impairs a major life activity such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, and/or breathing. An individual with a short-term disability, such as a sprain, infection, or broken limb generally would not be covered. Second, a person with a history of cancer that is currently in remission or a person with a history of mental illness can also be considered disabled. Finally, an individual whom the employer considers to have a substantially limiting disability, even when the individual does not have the perceived impairment, is protected under the ADA. For example, this provision would protect a severely disfigured individual from being denied employment because an employer feared the “negative reactions” of others.
In addition to having a disability, you must satisfy the employer’s requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills, or licenses. You must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job.
In future blogs I will discuss reasonable accommodations, tax credits, and other topics that can be beneficial to job seekers with disabilities, workforce staff, and HR Professionals. Feel free to contact me with questions or ideas for upcoming blogs.
Claudia Magallan is the Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions Workforce Solutions- Gulf Coast ensuring that customers with disabilities utilize all the services offered by Workforce Solutions. She has over 5 years of experience building relationships in the Houston Community and working with job seekers with barriers to employment.