Dis-abled or Un-abled?
Let’s talk, for a moment, about the difference between disability and discrimination. Here’s the Associated Press from four days ago:
“Obesity can be a disability, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday — a decision that could have widespread consequences across the 28-nation bloc for the way in which employers deal with severely overweight staff. The ruling, which is binding across the EU, has such profound implications for employment law that experts expect EU nations to challenge it. The court ruled in the case of a Danish childcare worker Karsten Kaltoft, who weighed 159 kilograms (350 pounds) and said he was unfairly fired for being fat. The ruling said if obesity hinders a ‘full and effective participation in professional life,’ it could count as a disability.”
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has the following definitions of disability:
1. A condition that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities
2. A condition of being unable to do things in the normal way
3. Limitation in the ability to pursue an occupation because of a physical or mental impairment
4. A disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage
One could argue that under these definitions, severe obesity is a disability. Obesity limits physical abilities, causes people to do things like walking and traveling in an abnormal way, can make certain jobs difficult, and is certainly a disadvantage in many cases.
- You cannot do work that you did before;
- The SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
The SSA goes through a list of conditions that must be met for a claim of disability to be accepted. From their website:
The ADA definition is surprisingly broad, and thus has been the basis for discrimination lawsuits since it’s inception. For example, challenges to employers for discriminatory hiring practices based on obesity have been going on since at least 1974, when Catherine McDermott, weighing 249 pounds at 5 foot 6, sued the Xerox Corporation for pronouncing her too heavy to hire as a systems analyst. In 1993 a three-judge panel in Boston ruled that discrimination against severely obese people violated a Federal disabilities law. That case was brought by Bonnie Cook, a 5-foot 2-inch, 320-pound Rhode Island woman who was refused a job at a state center for retarded people because of her weight. A Mr. Joseph Connor sued McDonald’s in 2002, claiming that McDonald’s illegally discriminated against him for being obese.
The whole argument here is really about discrimination, not disability. The companies being sued, including in the current EU case, argue that the overweight people they refused to hire were not able to do the work they applied for, i.e, they were “disabled”. The people bringing the suits say they were discriminated against because of their weight, and that they, in fact, were not disabled. So the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t really apply, does it? Obesity is not a disability, but it sure is a target for discrimination. There’s a big difference.
From → Healthcare