ADA: Returning Service Members with Disabilities, Know your rights! | Knowledge is power!

You’ve been seriously injured while serving on active duty in the U.S. Military — perhaps you’ve lost a limb, sustained a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, sustained hearing or vision loss, or are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — and now you’re back in the States trying to adjust to living with your injury. This publication explains your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provides information on where to get assistance

Introduction | The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law, not a benefit program entitling you to specific services or financial assistance because of your disability.

The ADA uses different standards than the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs in determining disability status. The ADA covers people with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, speaking, lifting, hearing, seeing, reading, eating, sleeping, concentrating, or working. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily functions such as brain, immune system, respiratory, neurological, digestive, and circulatory functions. Businesses and State and local government agencies must take reasonable steps to make it possible for people with disabilities to be their employees or customers.

Employment | Obtaining Employment: What to Expect

Photo: Assistant Secretary Duckworth, who sits in a wheelchair alongside a podium, has two prosthetic legs.
The Hon. L. Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs

The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified employees or job applicants on the basis of their disability. It covers all employment practices, including the job application process, hiring, advancement, compensation, training, firing, and all other conditions of employment. Under the ADA, employers cannot use eligibility standards or qualifications that unfairly screen out people with disabilities and cannot make speculative assumptions about a person´s ability to do a job based on myths, fears, or stereotypes about employees with disabilities (such as unfounded concerns that hiring people with disabilities would mean increased insurance costs or excessive absenteeism).

Additionally, employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, which means changing the work environment or job duties to eliminate barriers that keep an individual from being able to perform the essential functions of the job. Employers are not, however, required to make accommodations that would result in an “undue hardship,” which means accommodations that would result in significant difficulty or expense. Also, employers are not required to provide accommodations unless an employee requests them. So, if you´re a veteran with a hidden disability like PTSD, you can decide whether to reveal the disability and request accommodations. If you don´t need accommodations, you don´t have to disclose the disability. Employers with fifteen or more employees must comply with these provisions.

Typical examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • Flexible scheduling at a retail store or restaurant, so a sales clerk or cashier with PTSD can attend counseling sessions or an employee with a spinal cord injury who has a lengthy personal care routine in the mornings can start his or her workday later.
  • For an employee who has a brain injury, reducing clutter and distractions, providing instructions and information in writing, breaking down complex assignments into small steps, or allowing a job coach on the worksite to help a new employee get settled into the job.
  • Specialized equipment for a data-entry operator who has lost an arm, hand, or finger, such as a one-handed keyboard, a large-key keyboard, a touchpad, a trackball, or speech recognition software.
  • Making sure materials and equipment are in easy reach for a factory worker who uses a wheelchair.
  • Raising an office desk on blocks for a worker who uses a wheelchair, and making sure supplies, materials, and office machines are at a height that is easy to reach and use and are in a location that is not obstructed by partitions, wastebaskets, or other items.
  • Allowing more frequent work breaks or providing backup coverage when an employee who has PTSD needs to take a break.
  • Providing a stool for a sales clerk who uses crutches so he or she can sit when not serving customers.
  • If the employer has an employee parking lot, reserving a parking space close to the entrance for an employee who has difficulty walking because of the loss of a leg, foot, or toe.
  • Providing instructions and information in writing for an employee with hearing loss.
  • Allowing an employee to bring his or her service animal to work.
  • Allowing an employee with tinnitus to play soft background music or sounds to help block out the ringing in his ears.

For more information about these provisions or how to file a complaint, see Contact Information for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For practical advice on workplace accommodations, see Contact Information for the Job Accommodation Network.

U.S. Department of Justice | Civil Rights Division | Disability Rights Section

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