ADA Protects Our Right to Safe Healthcare
Here is how to invoke it
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of disabled people, and those who live with, or care for disabled people, in all areas of public life. On May 8, 2023, we held a training about requesting “Reasonable Accommodations” for safe healthcare. You can watch our training here. We discussed invoking our Federal Right as protected by Title II and III of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and to protect people who are high-risk for severe COVID, or who care for or live with people who are at high-risk.
The reality is, in an ongoing pandemic, the category of people who are disabled, or who are high-risk for COVID, or care for people who are at high-risk, and who are thus protected by the ADA is large and growing. We are all at risk for Long COVID; COVID is a disabling virus. By invoking the ADA collectively and demanding universal masking en-masse, we help each other. Refusing artificial scarcity that says there are not enough resources to care for everyone requires that we struggle for each other's access needs and rights.
We urge people to request reasonable accommodations in the form of universal masking and other layers of protection for airborne virus spread. Federal Court Precedence has already upheld universal masking as a reasonable accommodation. The more of us that achieve universal masking as a reasonable accommodation, the stronger our precedence becomes!
While we did not cover this in our May 8 training, the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act also protect our rights to safe employment and education. Disabled and high-risk people can, and should invoke their right to reasonable accomodations in the form of universal masking and other layers of protection for airborne virus spread. Unlike healthcare, you will likely be required to show medical documentation of your condition and engage in what is called an “interactive process” with your employer. This fact sheet from Equip for Equality covers some of these, but we will do a future workshop on employment.
If you are a healthcare worker whose employer has recently lifted their mask mandate, we suggest organizing with your disabled and high-risk colleagues to together request reasonable accomodations in the form of not interacting with any unmasked patients or staff. As with any organizing project, remember that it is essential to communicate clearly with one another and remain in solidarity with your coworkers. While we haven’t worked on this at People’s CDC, UC Justice Coalition has, and we reccomend you look at their Safe Workplaces Now pamphlet. If you’ve never organized your workplace before, reach out to us on our contact form, People’s CDC will do our best to be a good resource to you as we all navigate these unprecedented times, together.
Please see our full guide and slides from our May 8 workshop here
Who Qualifies for Reasonable Accommodations?
People with a disability
Under the ADA, a disabled person is “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” The ADA does not specify particular diagnoses, you may not realize that the ADA applies to you or your loved one. Source: ada.gov
People who live with or take care of someone with a disability Source: ada.gov
People who are high-risk for COVID, or who live with or take care of someone who is high-risk for COVID, also qualify and should invoke their right to reasonable accommodations.
NOTE: The CDC List of Conditions which makes someone “higher-risk” for COVID is very long. It includes “physical inactivity” “current or former smoker,” “Mood disorders, including depression” “diabetes” among other things.
What Are Reasonable Accommodations?
From Disability Rights California: “Considered together, Title II and III of the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557 require that covered entities provide individuals with disabilities
Full and equal access to their health care services and facilities;
Reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to make health care services accessible;”
Your right to safe healthcare is guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act for safe healthcare, pursuant to ‘full and equal access’ to health care services under federal law (28 C.F.R. § 35.151 (Title II); 28 C.F.R. Part 36, Subpart D (Title III)).”
Our May 8, 2023 ADA training slide deck can be downloaded as a PDF by a clickable link on the first page of the deck. We will continue to update it as we refine our resource.
Finally, Here is a Sample Reasonable Accommodations Request. We recommend you send this request to your hospital leadership, as well as the General Counsel, and your provider. Here is a list of Hospital CEOs that you can refer to:
We recommend calling to follow up, being confident and persistent! We are in this together.
Subject: Reasonable Accommodations Request
To: Clinic director, provider, hospital general counsel, your physician, ADA office if there is one.
Because I have a medical condition that, according to the CDC, makes me at high risk for severe COVID outcomes, my functional limitation is that I can only participate in indoor spaces which require universal masking and other layers of protection against airborne viruses. I am requesting reasonable accommodations as guaranteed by the ADA that all my upcoming visits in the next six months take place in a universally masked setting. Additionally, I request
1. A guarantee that I will not encounter a single unmasked person for the duration of my visit, including other visitors, hospital staff or other patients.
2. All of my providers will wear an N95 mask at all times in my presence
3. Additional air ventilation will be provided for my visit, I am happy to bring my own HEPA purifier to assist with this.
4. I will be seen, treated, and in post-op in a private room which I will not share with any other patient.
5. All providers who see me will certify that they have not tested positive for COVID nor been exposed to COVID in the past ten days, and complete a COVID symptom screening
Please confirm how you will be able to meet my request. I would appreciate a written response to my request. Thank you so much in advance.
More helpful resources
Vermont Center for Independent Living Training on ADA
People’s CDC Resource on ADA adapted from Erin Dahl’s COVID Inclusion Times Facebook Page
COVID Times Inclusion Facebook Page