London, England, UK, January 22nd 2022, Long covid symptoms sign on pharmacy shop window UK.

Mobilizing Long COVID Awareness to Better Support People with Acquired Disabilities

By Marissa Wagner Mery

Long COVID exposes an often-unacknowledged facet of disability: that one is far more likely to develop a disability than be born with one.

Estimates suggest that, at present, approximately 10 – 20 million Americans are now afflicted with the array of debilitating symptoms we now call Long COVID, which include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog.”

The upswell of advocacy and awareness around Long COVID should be mobilized to call attention to and address the challenges faced by newly-disabled adults, particularly with respect to employment.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Long COVID and Physical Reductionism

By Leslie Francis and Michael Ashley Stein

Like plaintiffs with other conditions lacking definitive physiological markers, long COVID plaintiffs seeking disability anti-discrimination law protections have confronted courts suspicious of their reports of symptoms and insistent on medical evidence in order for them to qualify as “disabled” and entitled to statutory protection.

We call this “physical reductionism” in disability determinations. Such physical reductionism is misguided for many reasons, including its failure to understand disability socially.

Ironically, these problems for plaintiffs may be traced to amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that were intended to expand coverage for plaintiffs claiming disability discrimination. Three provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) are appearing especially problematic for long COVID patients in the courts.

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HVAC tech wearing mask and gloves changing an air filter

Providing Clean Air in Indoor Spaces: Moving Beyond Accommodations Towards Barrier Removal

By Jennifer Bard

One of the most persistently frustrating aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as currently applied to schools and workplaces, is its emphasis on the eligibility of qualifying individuals for accommodation, rather than on population-based removal of barriers to participation.

This individualized approach has always been an uncomfortable fit, given the reality of changes in physical function throughout the lifespan, and is a particularly unsatisfying model for the collective threat of COVID-19, a novel virus that has not only caused at least a million deaths in the United States, but is likely to trigger a variety of disabling sequelae in many (perhaps most) of those who recover.

So far, however, there is mounting evidence that individuals who seek to protect themselves from infection with COVID-19 in school or in the workplace (very much including those who work in schools) are going to have to do based on their individual susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or to being disproportionately affected by an infection.

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3d render, abstract fantasy cloudscape on a sunny day, white clouds fly under the red gates on the blue sky. Square portal construction.

Workplace Accommodations in a Post-COVID Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has opened the door to new opportunities to improve our society. For example, office changes brought about by the pandemic — e.g., remote working or telecommuting — made life easier for many workers with disabilities. However, as more of the workforce begins returning to the office, there are notable examples of employers pushing back on the increased accommodations realized during the pandemic, indicating that some gains in accommodation will continue to be hard fought. In an effort to rid our society of harmful inequities, the struggle for these rights has important value.

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Ponta Grossa/PR/Brazil - July 15th 2020: Home office, working from home layout during covid-19 pandemic

Employers Should Bear Responsibility for Making Remote Work Environments Accessible

By Christopher A. Riddle

Remote work meaningfully facilitates inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor market.

But, to truly fulfill its promise, employers must also take steps to ensure that remote work accommodations are not made at the expense of the employee, simply because their labor is conducted in their own home.

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Lady Justice blindfolded with scales.

Achieving Economic Security for Disabled People During COVID-19 and Beyond

By Robyn Powell

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pervasive inequities experienced by historically marginalized communities, including people with disabilities.

Activists, legal professionals, scholars, and policymakers must critically examine the limitations of our current disability laws and policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to elucidate why disabled people continue to endure these inequities, including those related to economic insecurity.

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View over woman' shoulder seated at desk, videoconferencing on computer.

Our New Remote Workplace Culture Creates Opportunities for Disabled Employees

By Arlene S. Kanter

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll on the nation, it has also opened an unprecedented opportunity to transform our workplaces and offer greater flexibility for employees with and without disabilities.

This shift in our workplace culture presents employment opportunities for disabled people that they may not have had in the past, even with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK: MAY 18, 2020: A jogger runs past a banner by the Battery Park City Authority reminding park visitors to please wear face masks.

Negotiating Masks in the Workplace: When the ADA Does and Does Not Apply

By Katherine Macfarlane

Workplaces are, by and large, no longer safe for employees who are high-risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for workplaces to require masks, at least in shared spaces. Two years later, though the pandemic is still ongoing, mask requirements are now far less prevalent as a result of the politicization of masks, so-called mask fatigue, and new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This move to relax masking rules presents significant dangers to those most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19. High-risk employees still need their co-workers to wear masks. They must now negotiate for safe workplaces in a social and political climate that is increasingly indifferent (or actively hostile) to their needs.

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Photo of doctor's exam room.

Using Health Justice to Identify Inequities Experienced by Employees with Disabilities

By Katherine Macfarlane

Disability discrimination negatively impacts the health of people with disabilities, yet disability law often overlooks discrimination’s health consequences. A health justice framework does not. It recognizes that discrimination impacts health, and then goes a step further, highlighting how legal systems are complicit in perpetuating health injustice. That wider lens better captures the lived experiences of those who experience discrimination, including people with disabilities.

My own work explores disability law’s insistence that disability be confirmed through medical examination. Without confirmation from a health care provider, disability does not exist, and reasonable accommodations need not be provided. A health justice framework has deepened my understanding of the harm those encounters impose. Identifying the full scope of the harm people with disabilities endure is the first step toward dismantling the systems that cause it.

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Top view of white cubicles in modern office with white walls and carpeted floor. 3d rendering.

Challenges Faced by Employees with Disabilities amid the Return to In-Person Work

By Doron Dorfman

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are calling workers who had been fulfilling their roles remotely back into the office.

In May 2021, for example, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase told employees that by July, they were expected to come back into their offices for at least a few days a week, adding that remote work “just doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture.” In July 2021, Apple announced its plan to require employees to be in the office at least three days a week.

These calls for getting back to the office raise particular quandaries for employees with disabilities, many of whom have disproportionally borne the brunt of pandemic layoffs.

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