Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Too Often Overlooked

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and a perfect time to remind us that HIV and status is a disability under the law.

Too often, HIV and AIDS are overlooked when addressing disabilities in the workplace. Whether it is due to the stigma that still surrounds the epidemic 25 years later or the lack of a comprehensive understanding of HIV and AIDS as a disability status, along with the potential needs and requirements of those HIV positive people in the workplace, there is still work to be done.

In June of 1998, the US Supreme Court ruled that people infected with HIV were entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of there systems or lack of systems. The landmark decision for people with HIV came about from a simple visit to the dentist.

In September of 1994, Sidney Abbott visited the dentist to have a cavity filled. The dentist, Dr. Randon Bragdon, refused to perform the procedure when Ms. Abbott disclosed on a form that she was asymptomatic HIV positive. Bragdon agreed to fill the cavity if he could perform the work in a hospital setting, but that Abbott would have to pay for the expense of being admitted and using the facility. Abbott sued Bragdon on grounds of discrimination, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

At the time, Ms. Abbott’s experience was one of a growing number of discriminations by doctors and dentists who refused to treat HIV positive people, fueling the controversy and resulting in the historic United States Supreme court case.

As it currently stands, the ADA states the HIV positive person has rights and protections from discrimination based on HIV disease. The rights and provisions provided by the ADA are protected by Federal law and confirmed and backed by The United States Supreme Court. Because both symptomatic and asymptomatic HIV infected people are protected by the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for the infected person. Additionally, this means an HIV positive person is also entitled to workplace accommodations that allow him or her to perform the jobs efficiently, while protecting the health of the employee.

For instance, under the ADA, employers must allow time away from work to seek medical care such as doctors' visits, trips to the pharmacy to pick up medication, and time to take that medication in a private setting. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations regarding schedule modification, reassignment to vacant positions that are better suited to the person's limitations, and must provide equipment that will allow the person to better perform his or her job.

A number of companies in the cable industry who are taking great steps to ensure that they have a comprehensive HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination workplace policy, provide HIV/AIDS education training to their managers, and employees, and encourage volunteerism to develop more understanding and compassion around the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS. There is even greater opportunity to make more of impact if those companies wish to.

When I first became involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the first thing that I realized was the power one person has to make a difference. The power one person has to help educate, influence, and empower a person be a self-advocate and be an advocate in their community.

Think of what a company can do. It can educate employees, influence vendors to do the same, and empower the communities that they live and work it to recognize their contributions and strive to make the same contributions where they work and live.

In the end, disability employment awareness does not stop at those who are HIV positive but it should not fall short of it either. With 1.2 million people living in this country infected with HIV/AIDS and 1 out of every 2 new infections occurring in those under the age of 25, HIV/AIDS is very much a workplace issue as well as a human issue.







1 comment:

ROBERT BREINING said...

I WAS UNAWARE THAT THIS MONTH WAS DISABLITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH. YOU LEARN SOMTHING NEW EVERYDAY..THANKS FOR THE BLOGPOST
I WILL LINK YOUR BLOG TO MINE..IF YOU ALLOW ME I WOULD LIKE TO BLOG INTERVIEW YOU. IF INTERESTED EMAIL ME AT POZIAM@YAHOO.COM
ROBERT