What Defines a Disability?

What Defines a Disability?

Food for thought.. What defines a disability and how far is too far?

I do not think anyone questions that someone who suffered a spinal cord injury or a similar medical condition would be considered disabled. My question is how far is too far and where is that blurry line drawn in the sand?

Mental illness? It can most definitely be a compromising factor in someone’s life. Some mental illnesses do not respond to therapy or medications. Blindness? I’m sure you saw that one coming. Deafness? You don’t hear anyone stating that it’s not. Okay all joking aside this is a very serious topic. I read a blog recently criticizing the use of special parking spaces for pregnant women. I personally do not take issue with those women being given privileged parking as it was stated in this blog they needed a doctor to state it was necessary for their/baby health. The bigger issue is what does defines a true disability. Did you know that you can drink your life away as an alcoholic and be covered by the ADA? It’s true. Alcoholism is a disability, not a choice. Did you know you can make years of poor choices with food and eat yourself to 500lbs? Don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault that you are disabled. It’s an illness. As a paraplegic I support the ADA and the strides that it has made for our community in an attempt to bring about equality. Equality for whom is the question.

From the ADA Website:


Q. Are alcoholics covered by the ADA?

A. Yes. While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use, a person who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol.


And according to the EEOC:


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) now claims obesity is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Until now, the courts have routinely rejected general obesity as a “disability” under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Cases have required one to show some different underlying medical condition that is a disability and that causes obesity as a “symptom.” Now the EEOC has filed suit, claiming that a company discriminatorily fired an employee because of obesity. The EEOC claims that ever since President George W. Bush authorized the ADA Amendments Act in 2008, the law has a much lower threshold for what constitutes a disability. The EEOC claims that basic obesity, without any other underlying condition, sufficiently impacts the life activities of bending, walking, digestion, cell growth, etc., to qualify as a disability or perceived disability. EEOC v. Resources for Human Development (E.D. LA.2010).

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you believe that disability should be limited to injury, chronic illness, organic illness, or genetic mutations? Should someone who has chosen to drink their liver away or eaten poorly have the same rights as someone with a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spina bifida as provided by the ADA? Isn’t it hard enough in the community to be taken seriously without throwing the word disability around to anyone who claims discrimination? I personally believe that every time something like this comes out we as a community lose a little bit of ground. Where does the line belong?


1 reply
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Definitely food for thought. My son is quadriplegic. He definitely qualifies as disabled. I know people who are alcoholic or obese. It was their choice. They had control of how their health would be affected by their lifestyle. My son had an accident. Fate and physiology determined his outcome.

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