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How the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Addresses Depression

Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.

How Does the ADA Define "Disability"?

There’s an important clause in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that defines what a “disability” is. ADA states that it is “a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity.” This important definition reveals the type of condition a person must have in order to be protected under this civil rights law. This also helps to explain why some people with clinical depression are covered by this law while others are not.

President George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law.

President George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law.

How ADA Protects Individuals

Designed to be handled on a case-by-case basis, the ADA has been protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination since the 1990s. This particular civil rights law covers several areas including employee hiring and practice in local governmental and/or private businesses (with more than 15 employees), public transportation, telecommunications, and public facilities. Also, it leaves room for coverage in other areas not originally placed in the bill. The law is divided into five Titles. They are as follows:

  • Title I: Employment
  • Title II: Public Entities (such as public transportation)
  • Title III: Public Accommodations (such as service animals)
  • Title IV: Telecommunications
  • Title V: Miscellaneous (anything not addressed in the previous titles).

Also, the law keeps open the definition of a disability and who is covered -- or not covered - by it. Over the years, revisions have been made to the law. Those covered may include people with physical and mental disabilities or diseases such as AIDS/HIV infection.

The Problem With Depression and ADA Coverage

Depression is a condition often not associated with a disability. There are still a lot of misconceptions coming from people who see it as nothing more than someone feeling sad, melancholy, or gloomy. As a result, many suffer discrimination or termination from a job, despite their potential competence at a job if they were accommodated for their condition.

They may have trouble working with others, are suicidal or have ailments or illness brought about by mental anguish...

Yet, this condition is more than that; it is a mental condition in which the sufferers may have difficulties living a normal life. They may have trouble working with others, are suicidal, or have ailments or illnesses brought about by mental anguish or sorrow that are associated with this condition. Some have been known to be so debilitated by the condition that they can’t do simple tasks such as waking up or leaving the house.

The Determining Factors of Depression

Like other people with disabilities, they’re prone to unfair treatment, discrimination or denial of certain rights. Protection from discrimination is offered under ADA; however, not everyone with clinical depression is eligible for it.

A determining factor is the criteria needed to become eligible under ADA. A person covered under this law must have:

  • Signs of Depression Recognized by the ADA
  • Drastic change in appetite
  • Sudden change in sleeping patterns
  • Sudden loss of interest in things and activities
  • Energy loss and fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of hope
  • Indecision
  • Suicidal thoughts

• A physical or mental condition that substantially limits one or more major life functions,

• A medical history or record of suffering from a debilitating condition, or

• Perceived to have a physical or mental impairment.

Although a person can be diagnosed with clinical depression, and have a medical record of it, other measures such as the use of medication may limit the effectiveness or usefulness of ADA. If a person with depression can perform major life activities without difficulties - despite the use of medication or therapy to treat his/her condition they will not meet the ADA’s definition of disability.

The Role of Drug and Substance Abuse

Another determining factor is drug and substance abuse. Although individuals with depression have been known to “self-medicate” with alcohol or illicit drugs, the mere act can prevent them from being protected by ADA.

This criterion is known as a “mitigating measure,” and it was a decision that came from a few 1999 Supreme Court rulings such as Albertson's Inc. v. Kirkinburg. As a result, the person with depression has to prove that his/her condition was affecting job performance, despite treatment. If he/she could prove that depression was compromising job performance, then ADA will be used to protect that person.

Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors...

Most often, ADA is utilized in places of employment. This is known as Title I, and it states that employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to those with a known disability if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business.

Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation (Schimelpfening, 2008).

Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations are changes or modifications made to assist a person with a disability to accomplish a job-related task. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states in its website that reasonable accommodations might include

  • Restructuring or shifting responsibility to other employees for minor job tasks that an employee is unable to perform because of the disability.• Unpaid or paid leaves.
  • Requiring the person to remain on the job ( use temporary transfer, so long as the employee can still address his/her medical needs).
  • Placed on part-time schedules (or flexible time).
  • Modifying a workplace policy (adjusted work schedule)

Determining if a person with depression is eligible for ADA services can be tricky. However, this condition can be covered by the particular civil rights law.

A person with this condition must prove that it is affecting his/her abilities to live a normal life and to accomplish their job-related tasks.

The ADA definition of "disability"

The ADA definition of "disability"

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the disabilities covered by ADA ?

Answer: The ADA covers an extensive collection of disabilities. They range from physical disabilities to developments, mental or intellectual disabilities. Most notably, this law refer to access to transportation, communication, employment, and others (six parts, if I recall).

© 2017 Dean Traylor