Career Connection Series: What Are My Employment Rights?

By The National Disability Rights Network Team 

A common concern for people with disabilities who are employed or seeking employment is discrimination. Workers worry that their employer will fire them, reduce their hours or eliminate their position because they have a disability. Applicants wonder if their resume will be ignored, if they will get past the interview or if an offer will be denied because they have a disability. This blog post will respond to some of these concerns and identify some important employment rights.

A variety of federal laws exist to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment. Many states also have laws to protect against discrimination in employment based on disability; some of these state laws provide even greater protection than the federal laws discussed below.

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This groundbreaking civil rights statute was intended to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations and services, telecommunications and transportation. The ADA may not apply to all employment situations, but Title I of the ADA prohibits many employers from discriminating on the basis of disability.

The ADA covers the following employment situations:

  • Private employers who have at least 15 employees. This includes locations of a business that have less than 15 employees but whose total number of employees, in all locations, is more than 15. The ADA also applies to labor unions and employment agencies.
  • State and local governments. Examples of employment in state and local government include government offices and agencies, public schools, police and fire departments, libraries and museums, parks and recreation facilities.
  • The ADA does not apply to the federal government (with the exception of the U.S. Senate). Another law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, offers protections for federal workers.

However, the employee or job applicant must meet the definition of disability as described in the law, for the ADA to apply. Disability under the ADA means a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. 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.

Finally, for the ADA to apply, the individual has to be qualified – have the skills, education, experiences and licenses – for the job, as well as be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

If you are an individual who is experiencing discrimination by an employer based on your disability, there are several things you can do.

Contact your state Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency. P&As exist in every state and territory and may provide free advocacy services, information and referral, and in some instances, legal representation to people with disabilities. Call your P&A if:

  • You want to know what help is available to get or keep a job.
  • You want to know what will happen to your benefits if you go to work.
  • You have transportation problems getting to and from work.
  • You believe you were not hired or given a different job because of your disability.
  • You were not given the help you needed to do your job.
  • You think people at your job are not treating you fairly because of your disability. Go to to find contact information for your P&A.

Another option is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal administrative agency responsible for investigating claims of discrimination against employers. A person who claims discrimination for violation of Title I of the ADA or certain other federal anti-discrimination statutes must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and follow the agency’s process before filing a claim in federal court. Go to to get more information about filing an employment discrimination claim.

Most importantly, become your own advocate. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides proactive information and resources to help people with disabilities request reasonable accommodations in the workplace. JAN also provides information on the types of accommodations available by disability, and offers general information to help people with disabilities educate themselves to prevent discrimination before an employment interview or accepting a job offer.

This blog post is meant to provide general information about the protection from employment discrimination found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you believe you have experienced employment discrimination based on your disability, contact your state P&A or find other professional legal advice.

In summary, if your situation satisfies the following conditions specified in the ADA, you may have been the victim of employment discrimination based on disability:

  1. Work for a covered employer or a private employer with 15 or more employees or a public employer regardless of number of employees. Most federal applicants and employees are covered by a different civil rights law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  2. Have a disability;
  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • A history of a disability;
  • Are regarded as having a disability.

3. Be otherwise qualified for the desired position; and

  • Have the skills, education, experiences and licenses necessary for the job; and
  • Be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

4. Have been discriminated against on the basis of disability.


My American Dream: Creating a Pathway for a New Beginning

By Guest Blogger Bob Williams, Associate Commissioner for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Employment Support Programs

Image of Bob Williams
“If we want more disability beneficiaries to go to work, we must offer individuals path­ways and opportunities to earn their way out of poverty and to have a fair shot at entering or re-entering the middle class.”

I am both excited and honored to be the new Associate Commissioner of the Office of Employment Support Programs (OESP), which administers the agency’s Ticket to Work program. I’m excited because Ticket to Work is an innovative program that for nearly a decade has helped thousands of Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities find meaningful employment and take steps toward achieving greater self-sufficiency. I’m honored because of the awesome responsibility I am taking on. Ticket to Work is not just a “jobs program.” Its mission is to create a better quality of life for people with disabilities by providing them with a pathway to financial independence.

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September Is National Preparedness Month – Include Everyone in Planning for Emergencies

In his proclamation designating September as National Preparedness Month, President Barack Obama stated, “In April of this year, a devastating series of tornadoes challenged our resilience and tested our resolve. In the weeks that followed, people from all walks of life throughout the Midwest and the South joined together to help affected towns recover and rebuild…Disability community leaders worked side-by-side with emergency managers to ensure that survivors with disabilities were fully included in relief and recovery efforts. These stories…underscore that in America, no problem is too hard and no challenge is too great.”

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Low Tech Finally Meets High Tech

By Guest Blogger Rachelle Kniffen, Marketing Specialist, Leader Dogs for the Blind

Photograph of a Guide Dog

A dog and a piece of leather are about as low tech as you can get, but add the human element and it works. For more than 70 years, clients of Leader Dogs for the Blind have relied on dogs and pieces of leather as a travel aid. And this very low tech guide dog travel aid has been extremely successful at helping them lead safer and more independent lives. I must mention another low tech example – the white cane. A simple, but also very reliable and functional travel aid, which is, let’s admit it, a stick. Again, add the human element and it works.

But while the world began moving-and-shaking by making technology cheaper and smaller (e.g. computers, cell phones and iPods,) not a lot was being done to develop affordable, practical technology to enable people who are blind to travel more independently. Yes, in the 1960’s Leader Dog helped to test the Sonic Aid, a device that used lasers to help people identify objects in an 8-10 foot area. But was it successful? Not so much – otherwise more of us would know about it. But let’s give kudos where they are due, at least someone was trying to bring technology to people who are blind.

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September01,2011 Incorporates a New Design on Disability.Blog

Illustration of a construction worker.

By the Team

This evening, our technical team will start to incorporate a new blog design on Disability.Blog. While we hope this transition will occur smoothly, you may notice a few bumps this weekend as our team tweaks the design to improve its accessibility and functionality. Thank you for understanding!