By Holly Bertone
Is autoimmune disease (AI) a disability? This is the million-dollar question.
The short answer is if your AI is protected by certain conditions under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) then you are protected under the law. The long answer is it's a lot more complicated. First, I can't tell you how many individuals I've spoken with who have AI who do not view having one as a disability. Some of these people are able to manage their conditions and live productive lives without any issues, while others are too proud to consider themselves disabled.
It's a double-edged sword. The word “disability” sometimes has negative connotations in our society of someone who is not able to perform or function. One of the challenges of having AI is the common occurrence of people saying, “But you don't look sick.” If you are able to work full time but still need accommodations, your manager or company may not understand the connection. Or, you may not view yourself as having a disability, especially compared with someone with a more visible disability. It's a change in mindset and education.
Back to the law: The ADA was amended in 2008, and went into effect Jan. 1, 2009. If AI was ever blurry under the law, this amendment added a new category of major life activities called “major bodily functions,” which specifically includes the endocrine and immune systems.
According to section 4, part 2b, of the amendment titled Disability Defined and Rules of Construction, “a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.”
It doesn't matter how you feel about being considered disabled. It certainly doesn't matter if your employer wants to acknowledge your disability. The language of the law is crystal clear: If you meet the required conditions under the ADA, you are legally protected by it. According to www.ada.gov, “If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects you from job discrimination on the basis of your disability.”
This article is shared by Holly Bertone, CNHP, PMP, president of Pink Fortitude, a health and wellness site, and author of the No. 1 Amazon bestselling book Thriving in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease: Know Your Rights, Resolve Conflict, and Reduce Stress. Bertone, a breast cancer and Hashimoto's survivor, turned these two significant health challenges into a passion to help others. She inspires others with her quick wit, brutal honesty and simple ways to be healthy in real life.