Epilepsy as a Disability
Many courts have recognized epilepsy as a disability.
For many years, people with epilepsy have been considered disabled under state and federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, there have been numerous successful cases brought under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 recognizing that people with seizure disorders are disabled under the law. These cases recognized the stigma associated with seizure disorders and that many people with a history of epilepsy are considered disabled because of the varied nature of seizures. The Foundation worked very hard for passage of the ADA, to broaden the scope of disability protection and to address the needs of people with seizure disorders. Despite this history, and in light of the recent Supreme Court rulings, there has been some question as to whether epilepsy is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Supreme Court says you must prove a substantial disability.
In its recent opinions, the Supreme Court determined that people whose conditions are controlled by medication will not be considered to have a disability under the ADA unless they can demonstrate a substantial disability despite the treatment. It held that people with corrected myopia (nearsightedness) are not covered by the ADA; neither is a person with hypertension controlled by medication, nor a person with monocular vision, where the brain has compensated for sight in one eye.
This does not mean that all people who take medication are automatically barred from protection under this statute.
People with seizures will need to demonstrate that, even though they are taking medications to control their conditions, they are still substantially impaired in their ability to work or perform some other daily life activity, such as mobility (e.g., driving), sleeping, self-care, reproduction. You may also be able to show that the treatment itself causes a substantial disability, e.g., medications interfering with cognition, memory, reproduction. The Supreme Court mentioned that just because you take medications for your condition, the condition may still be substantially limiting or you may suffer side effects from the medication which are substantially limiting.
People with epilepsy are among those Congress intended to protect with the ADA.
The Supreme Court recognized that there are 43 million Americans with a disability and that Congress intended this segment of our population to be covered by the ADA. People with epilepsy, and people who have a record or history of epilepsy and seizures, are among those that Congress specifically mentioned when it passed the ADA. Congress also explicitly recognized that people can be regarded as having a substantial disability even when in fact they are not currently disabled, and it used the case of people with controlled epilepsy as an example of the population it intended to address. Congress and the courts, including the Supreme Court, have also acknowledged that fear of a person's disability can form the basis for discrimination, and epilepsy has been cited as an example of this type of discrimination.
How might a person with epilepsy be substantially impaired?
What should you do if you are discriminated against because of your epilepsy?
Continue to file complaints of discrimination with the EEOC alleging violations of the ADA. Do not think you are no longer covered by the ADA; there are many ways in which your particular circumstances can get you the law's protection.
There are other options, too. You can file complaints with your local or state fair employment practice (FEP) agencies, and you also may be able to file a complaint under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or other federal and local laws.