The other day as I was filling out some forms —- checking off my gender and race -— I ran into that perennial question: Do you have any disabilities? My gut reaction is always an emphatic NO, but then I remember that delicate dilemma in our diabetic community about freedom from stigma and protection under the law.
I am reminded that advocates are working hard to pass legislation to update and refresh the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has -— according to sources at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) -- been "warped" from its original intent. The new bill is an effort to put the ADA (this time: Americans with Disabilities Act) in line with other civil rights statutes that focus on discrimination rather than on whether the person involved is disabled enough to earn protection.
A couple of examples to illustrate:
• The so-called "Sutton Trilogy" — a set of cases that set a "wellness" precedent for people with chronic illness: if you have a "mitigating measure" like prosthetic or an insulin pump that allows you to control your illness, then you're not considered disabled enough to qualify for protection under the ADA (which kind of provides a perverse incentive to not take care of yourself, ay?)
Trouble is, an employer could say he's not hiring you because your diabetes (or other condition) makes his insurance premiums go up -— but then the court says you're not disabled enough for protection under the law. D'oh!
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• Williams vs. Toyota — a case that set the threshold even higher to qualify for protection under the ADA. The courts are encouraged to look at so-called "major life activities," i.e. are you substantially limited in something vital that "normal people" do? A CCD spokeswoman talks about Kerry McClure, an electrician who had interviewed in-person for a job at GM. He was hired, so he sold his house and moved his family to another state. But when GM found out he had multiple sclerosis, they dropped him like a hot potato —- despite the fact that he'd passed all the exams and could perform top-quality work. Still, he had no protection under the law, because the court said if he can brush his teeth, dress himself, and take the trash out, then he can perform "major life activities." Aargh.
"That's just how warped the interpretation of this law has gotten —- people are too disabled for the job and not disabled enough for protection," the CCD spokeswoman laments.
When you put it on those terms, I damn well want "disabled" protection, too. If someone tries to edge me out of a job or other opportunity because of my diabetes, I want the law to stand up and say that discrimination is NOT OK. Therefore I'm very grateful that advocacy groups (including our ADA) are pushing for this revamp of the Disabilities Act, which will flip the issue to put the focus the discrimination, rather than just how disabled the defendant may be. The ADA Restoration Act has good support in the Senate, and will hopefully gain a stronghold in the House within the next month or two, the CCD tells me.
Meanwhile, the The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which enforces the employment provisions of the ADA, has made a list of "reasonable accommodations" for PWDs in the workplace. Employers must provide:
• a private area to test blood sugar levels or to take insulin
• a place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal
• breaks to eat or drink, take medication, or test blood sugar levels
• leave for treatment, recuperation, or training on managing diabetes
• modified work schedule or shift change
Them's your rights, People. Nice to know somebody's looking out for us —- even if we mostly don't feel disabled.