Employment Rights for Wheelchair Users: The Basics

Monday, January 28, 2019

By Stephanie Woodward

There’s a common misconception that wheelchair users cannot work, but that’s simply not true. Not only can we work, but we want to work. One of the biggest barriers that wheelchair users face in employment is not knowing our rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically protects people with disabilities from discrimination in employment. The more wheelchair users know about our rights under the ADA, the better off we’ll be in employment interviews and on the job. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about employment and the ADA.

Are all employers covered under the ADA?

Unfortunately, no. Only employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the ADA. This means a small coffee shop with only two employees will not be held to the same requirements as a restaurant with 18 employees.

What are the requirements for employers under the ADA? 

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating in ALL employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA requirements apply to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities. So basically, the ADA applies to all aspects of employment!

Are you protected under the ADA?

The ADA prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees that are "qualified individuals with disabilities." A person has a "disability" if they: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such impairment.

If you use a wheelchair because you cannot walk or you are very limited in your ability to walk, then you are likely protected under the ADA.

The ADA also prohibits discrimination against a person because they have a known relationship or association with an individual with a disability, such as a mother who has a child that uses a wheelchair.  

What is a qualified individual with a disability?

A person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of the job that she holds or is applying for and who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

This means a person is qualified if they can do the vital parts of the job. For example, if a woman applied for a job as a vet technician and she had the appropriate education and training, but she could not reach some of the medical equipment because it is kept on the top shelf, then she is a qualified person with a disability because she can do the job – she just needs the equipment moved to a lower shelf as a reasonable accommodation!

There are plenty of jobs wheelchair users can perform and knowing your rights can help you get and keep the job that’s right for you! Be on the lookout for a follow up blog about reasonable accommodations!



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