Parkinson’s may limit some physical abilities, but it should never take away a person’s right to live well. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is much less likely to do so.
As we mark the 25th birthday of the ADA — which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, on July 26, 1990 — we revisit why it is important for the PD community, including how it can protect you and your family and how to contact PDF for help if it doesn’t.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on any kind of disability — defined as temporary or permanent impairment of physical or mental abilities — including, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. (Note that the law can also sometimes apply to individuals who have caregiving responsibilities, e.g., for a person with PD).
How Does the ADA Protect People with Parkinson’s?
Under the ADA, a person with PD is guaranteed the same opportunities as anyone else as it pertains to public life. This covers a host of situations, but there are some situations in which the ADA more commonly comes into play in PD, including the following:
Note these are just brief descriptions. Be sure to review the resources and contact the PDF HelpLine for more detailed information.
Employment: Are you wondering how long you can continue with PD or whether it’s risky to disclose your diagnosis? The average age of a PD diagnosis is age 60 and a percentage of people are diagnosed much earlier on with young onset PD, meaning these questions are very common. When you choose to disclose your diagnosis is very personal. But it is important to know that under ADA, discrimination in the workplace based on PD is illegal. Under the law, employers with more than 15 employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees to help them perform essential job functions, as long as it does not put ‘undue hardship’ on the employer. This can mean an adjustment to work hours that align with when PD medications are most effective, the provision of adaptive equipment (ergonomic seating or voice recognition software), or the option to telecommute.
Browse Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Website
Browse PD Resource List for Employment Resources
Transportation: Have you faced the challenge of navigating planes, trains and automobiles with PD? This can be a daunting experience, particularly when using walkers or wheelchairs. The ADA outlaws discrimination for the use of transportation delivered by public entities based on disability and, in a related point (discussed below), prohibits discrimination on enjoyment/use of commercial spaces. What this means varies slightly depending where you live, but know that many accommodations are required by law. The most common thing we all might notice is the availability of parking spaces for individuals with disabilities, as well as special seating on public buses and trains. That said, sometimes research is needed — for example, there are only one or two train cars that accommodate wheelchairs you’ll need to figure out where they are before boarding. Note: if you need a permit for handicapped parking, visit your local DMV and request a form — it requires sign off from your doctor to be completed. What about air travel? It turns out that airlines must provide assistance getting on and off the plane (e.g., service personnel) ground wheelchairs, service wheelchairs, ramps and mechanical lifts. They also must provide storage space near your seat for any equipment, such as a canes, wheelchairs or walkers.
Download PDF Fact Sheet: Traveling with PD
Browse PD Resource List for Transportation Resources
Public Life: Have you gone out to dinner or to a concert, only to find the facility is difficult to access, perhaps due to stairs? Have you ever been misunderstood because of your PD symptoms? Unfortunately, PDF hears reports of individuals with PD being unable to enjoy social events as they should, perhaps for lack of access or for discrimination based on lack of understanding of PD (a common complaint is being mistaken for drink due to movement symptoms). Under ADA, restaurants, hotels, theaters, swimming pools and other public entities are not permitted to discriminate or exclude people because of their PD. This means that many businesses (not all, depending on when first constructed) must make accommodations, such as ramps that make it easier for individuals to access the facility. On the public level, it means that state and local governments must ensure all people have equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g., voting in elections).
Browse PD Resource List for ‘Staying Independent’
Help Raise Awareness: Browse PD Awareness Toolkit
Celebrating 25 Year of Protections & Finding Support
The good news is that after 25 years, the ADA provides broad protections (too many to discuss in a short space) to which people with PD are entitled. That is definitely something to celebrate. Yet, despite this protections, PDF knows that there is work for all of us to do in continuing to raise awareness of PD.
Do you want to learn more? Do you have questions about what your rights are or would you like help in navigating the law? Browse additional legal resources on our website here and please contact our PD HelpLine, between Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM ET, by calling (800) 457-6676 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you want to support the ADA? Show your commitment by signing its pledge here.
People with Parkinson’s face a chronic disease that they may live with for as many as 20 or 30 years. During that time, the disease may affect the body and change the way we live. But it should never stop anyone from enjoying the best quality of life. ADA ensures that is possible.
Have you had experience in which the ADA has protected you or in which you have faced challenges? Please share your experiences below.