by: Danielle Workman
This October, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! This month is focused on recognizing and celebrating the contributions of workers with disabilities. It aims to highlight and recognize the unique and valuable contributions that workers with disabilities bring to the workplace. Additionally, it promotes inclusive employment policies and practices.
This year, Disability Rights Iowa is focused on providing education on a newly recognized disability, increasing exponentially: Long COVID. Individuals experience long-term manifestations from COVID-19 in a variety of ways. ) , individuals with Long COVID may experience difficulties in work, education and community engagement.
Long COVID (or Post-COVID as referred to by the Centers for Disease Control ‘CDC’) is a broad title for people who experience a wide range of ongoing health problems as a result of having COVID-19. Their symptoms may last for weeks, months, or longer. Long COVID can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, or health status. Long COVID is NOT a formal diagnosis. People who they think may be experiencing Long COVID should work with the primary care physician to record and monitor their symptoms.
Symptoms of Long COVID have varied greatly from person to person. Examples of symptoms that have been reported by people experiencing Long COVID include*:
• Symptoms get worse after physical or mental effort
• Joint or muscle pain
• Changes in menstrual cycles
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Chest Pain
• Fast-beating or pounding heart
• “Brain Fog” – difficulty thinking or concentrating
• Sleep Problems
• Dizziness/Lightheadedness when you stand up
• Pins-and-needle feelings
• Change in smell or taste
• Depression or Anxiety
• Stomach Pain
*Information gathered from www.cdc.gov, this list is not all-inclusive, consult with your doctor about your symptoms to determine if you may be experiencing Long COVID.
For many people experiencing LONG COVID, the persisting symptoms are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. These long term symptoms may substantially limit a major life activities. .
Long COVID is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
As we celebrate NDEAM it is necessary to examine how Long COVID has impacted people in the workplace. Last year, Catherine Johnson welcomed people with Long COVID into the Disability Community. The ADA defines a disability as, “having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” But, what is a major life activity?
A major life activity is anything that you do on a daily basis in order to live. Examples include: hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, or working. This list is extensive because having one or more disabilities is not a singular experience for anyone. Even people who live with the same disability experience a different set of symptoms. Thus the ADA has recognized that disabilities are unique and call for unique modifications so that all Americans are entitled to a fulfilling and happy life.
If you are experiencing Long COVID, you are entitled to protections under the ADA. This means that if you need an accommodation at work to perform your job duties, you are entitled to request an accommodations to address the difficulties you are experiencing in performing your job duties. . Here are three examples of accommodations for Long-COVID.
Example 1: Taylor had COVID-19 two months ago. While most of Taylor’s symptoms eventually went away, they find they are not feeling like themselves since then. Taylor experiences brain fog at work. Taylor struggles to read and respond to emails every morning or pay attention during staff meetings. Taylor is starting to fall behind at work.
Possible Solutions: Taylor can work with their human resource specialist to request some reasonable accommodations such as: using noise cancelation head phones that eliminate office place distractions. Taylor might also request period of time on their calendar o work without interruptions, such as turning off phone and email notifications and keeping a closed door.
Example 2: Sam had COVID-19 a year ago. Sam used to be very active and engaged in physical activity several times per week. Since having COVID-19, Sam has noticed they get winded easily walking up stairs and has to take short breaks walking from a parking lot into a store. Sam works in a multi-level office and struggles to get around in a timely manner.
Possible Solutions: Sam can work with their accommodations specialist to request reasonable accommodations such as: moving meetings to an easier space for Sam to travel to, using a computer/web-based platform to attend meetings being held on different levels, having equipment such as printers, mail stations, etc. be located in close proximity to their work space (or moving Sam’s workspace closer to shared equipment), or allowing Sam more time between meetings to accommodate the need for extra travel time and proper rest.
These examples are just the start. If you are having difficulty performing your job duties due to experiencing Long COVID, you have the right to request reasonable accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has an extensive list of symptoms and reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19.