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ADA protections may apply to some COVID patients

COVID-19 may be creating a new group of people with disabilities.

The virus affects the lungs, can damage the heart, kidneys, brain, and blood vessels and can cause extreme fatigue, depression, and anxiety. In some people, symptoms linger, and we don’t yet know for how long.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as any condition that interferes with a major life activity (breathing, concentrating, communicating, seeing, or hearing) and bodily functions (the immune, circulatory and neurological systems), any of which could result from COVID.

“Simply having COVID wouldn’t quality someone for ADA accommodations, but many of the common after-effects would,” said Shirley Ryan of Chicago’s Ability Lab, which operates a COVID-19 rehab unit.  And if the ADA does apply, that means a growing number of people could be eligible for protection against employment discrimination, among other protections.

Some are calling the situation unprecedented. Workers at higher risk of complications if they contract the virus, such as those with heart or lung disease, diabetes, and people on immune-suppressing drugs may have never disclosed their conditions at work before. If they contract the virus, would they be covered by the ADA?

A good question that reporters can begin to try to answer.

For more information:

Mayo Clinic:

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab:



By Susan LoTempio​, board member, National Center on Disability and Journalism. Contact Susan @susanlotempio