Q: What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law passed by Congress in 1990 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.
Q: How does the Americans with Disabilities Act protect a worker with a disability?
A: Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act entitles qualified individuals with disabilities to reasonable accommodations, in order to remove barriers at the work place so that they are able to do their work effectively. It prevents discrimination based on disability in the areas of work place hiring, employment, and benefits.
Q: How do I know if I am a qualified individual with a disability?
A: An individual with a disability under the ADA is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working.
A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is someone who satisfies skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position.
Q: What other laws provide protections for qualified individuals with disabilities?
A: The New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws also provide certain protections for qualified individuals with disabilities.
The NYHRL prohibits an employer from refusing to hire, employ, or bar from employment, an individual due to his disability. N.Y. Executive Law §292 (2). The definition of disability enumerated in the NYHRL is broader than the ADA definition. Giordano v. City of New York, 274 F.3d 740, 753 (2d Cir. 2001). The NYHRL covers not only individuals with qualifying physical, mental or medical impairment, but also those who are perceived by others to have such impairments. §292 (21) of the NYHRL defines the term “disability” to mean:
(a) a physical, mental or medical impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, genetic or neurological conditions which prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques, or (b) a record of such impairment, or (c) a condition regarded by others as such an impairment, provided, however, that in all provisions of this article dealing with employment, the term shall be limited to disabilities which, upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, do not prevent the complainant from performing in a reasonable manner the activities in involved in the job sought or held.
The term “reasonable accommodation” includes, but is not limited to, provision of an accessible work site, acquisition or modification of equipment, support services for persons with impaired hearing or vision, job restructuring and modified work schedules, provided, however, that such actions do not impose an undue hardship on the business, program or enterprise of the entity from which action is requested. §292 (21-e). Further, §296 (3)(a) states that it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to the known disabilities of an employee.
An important distinction between the ADA and the NYHRL is that, to establish a prima facie case under the ADA, the individual must prove that his or her disability limits one or more major life activities. Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.S. 12102 (2). In contrast, the NYHRL does not have the “impairs a major life activity” requirement and is less restrictive than the ADA.
Under the City HRL, a reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability is one that will not cause an undue hardship in the operation of the employer’s business. §8-102 (18). Some examples of a reasonable accommodation, provided by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the City HRL, include: making existing workplace facilities readily accessible to and usable by an employee with a disability; job restructuring; modification of work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights also explains that if an individual with a disability is applying for a job, the prospective employer may not ask about the existence, nature or severity of the disability, but may ask about the individual’s ability to perform specific job functions. Under the City HRL, an employer may not make medical inquiries or conduct a medical examination of the applicant until a job offer has been made. Medical examinations of employees must be job related and consistent with the employer’s business needs. The Commission notes, however, that employers are not required to lower quality or quantity standards to make an accommodation.
For comprehensive information regarding protections under these state and local laws, visit the Useful Links section of our Website and see the following links: New York State Division of Human Rights and New York City Commission on Human Rights
Q: Who determines whether I am a qualified individual with a disability?
A: A physician at the Medical Bureau of the New York City Department of Education determines whether you are a qualified individual with a disability. When your application is reviewed at the Medical Bureau, a decision can be made based on the information you have provided, or the physician can request further medical documentation and/or ask you to report to the Medical Bureau to be examined.
Q: What is a reasonable accommodation?
A: Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to, making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; providing qualified readers or interpreters, and others. Reasonable accommodation may be necessary to apply for a job, to perform job functions, or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that are enjoyed by people without disabilities. An employer is not required to lower production standards to make an accommodation. An employer generally is not obligated to provide personal use items such as eyeglasses or hearing aids. An accommodation that is granted does not necessarily have to be the one you asked for - but it must be effective.
Q: How do I apply for a reasonable accommodation?
A: There is an informal application process (requested through the principal or supervisor) and a formal application process (requested through the Medical Bureau of the New York City Department of Education). Your principal or supervisor may not be aware that you have a disability and need an accommodation, and may be willing to grant you an accommodation after speaking with you. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your disability with your principal or supervisor, you may bypass the "informal" route and go directly to the "formal" route of application through the Medical Bureau of the Department of Education. Throughout the formal process, your principal and/or supervisor would not know the specifics of your disability.
In the informal process, when you meet with your principal or supervisor, be prepared to discuss your disability, functions unable to perform, and the accommodation(s) you are requesting. If you are granted an accommodation informally, and it is not implemented at some point in the future due to a change of school, administration, or other reason, you will not have documentation from the Department of Education providing for continued implementation of your accommodation. Your recourse at that time would be to request another accommodation in your new situation.
For this reason, you might want to consider applying for a formal accommodation immediately, or at some point after you have been granted one informally. By doing so, a change in your situation as noted above would require you to simply show your new principal or supervisor your letter of accommodation from the Medical Bureau, and he or she would be required to implement it as long as it has not expired.
Q: What role does my physician play in the application process?
A: The completion of your accommodation application is a collaborative effort among you, your physician, and the UFT. Your limitations, as well as the accommodation(s) that you are requesting, should be discussed with your physician and addressed in his or her accompanying medical documentation. Supply as much medical documentation as possible that will support your application.
Q: What do I do after I complete my accommodation application?
A: After you have completed your application and obtained medical documentation, make copies for yourself and mail, fax, or bring your materials to the Department of Education’s Medical Bureau. The address and fax number are on the application.
Q: How long will it take for my application to be processed at the Medical Bureau?
A: Once submitted, it can take one month or longer for a physician at the Medical Bureau to review your application, so submit it promptly. When your application is reviewed at the Medical Bureau a decision can be made based on the information you have provided, or the physician can request further medical documentation and/or ask you to report to the Medical Bureau to be examined.
Q: How am I notified of the Medical Bureau’s decision?
A: When a decision is made, you will receive a letter, and copies will be sent to your principal, superintendent, a member of the UFT who assists with the accommodation process, and the Disability Coordinator for the Department of Education. The letter does not contain any information about your disability. It only tells whether your accommodation is granted or denied, and if granted, what your accommodation entails.
Q: What can I do if the Medical Bureau disapproves my request for an accommodation?
A: Review the Medical Bureau’s letter and ascertain why it was denied. Consult with your physician to determine if additional medical documentation could be provided that would convince the physician at the Medical Bureau that you are a qualified individual with a disability as defined under federal, state or local laws, and that you need the accommodation(s) requested. If you believe your employment rights are being violated, you could file a complaint of discrimination (see the last four Q & A’s on filing a charge of discrimination).
Q: What can I do if my principal will not implement an accommodation that was granted by the Medical Bureau?
A: If your principal or other supervisor does not implement an accommodation that has been granted by the Medical Bureau, inform the Disability Coordinator at the Department of Education’s Office of Equal Opportunity at 718-935-2137. When appropriate, the Disability Coordinator will investigate the situation and attempt to resolve it by communicating with your principal or supervisor.
Q: Is there an agency outside the Department of Education that enforces Title I of the ADA ?
A: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, including Title I of the ADA . EEOC also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.
Q: Who can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC?
A: Any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with EEOC. In addition, an individual, organization, or agency may file a charge on behalf of another person in order to protect the aggrieved person’s identity.
Q: How is a charge of discrimination filed?
A: A charge may be filed by mail or in person at the nearest EEOC office. Individuals may consult their local telephone directory (U.S. Government listing) or call 1-800-669-4000 (voice) or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY) to contact the nearest EEOC office for more information on specific procedures for filing a charge.
Q: What other agencies can I contact in order to file a discrimination charge?
A: You could contact the New York State Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Comprehensive information about these agencies, including information on how to file a complaint of discrimination, can be found by going to the Useful Links section of our Website and opening up the Websites of these agencies.