Dr. Gerson then went on to discuss one of the protected groups that Ms. Garr mentioned: people with disabilities. She defined a disability the way the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does: a physical impairment that substantially limits life activities.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2008
This definition seems fairly clear until one has to decide who exactly is disabled and to what extent the disability confers protection against discrimination. For example, obesity-even morbid obesity-is not classified as a disability, even though there are many things that obese people cannot do or have great difficulty doing. But loss of a limb, loss of the ability to walk (even permanently needing crutches or a cane), blindness, deafness, and the like are protected conditions.
What must physician employers do to protect themselves against a charge of discrimination under the ADA? The law is, at the same time, clear and not clear. First, the disabled person must be capable of doing the job adequately and safely. For example, a blind man cannot reasonably be an ophthalmologist, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a general pediatrician or an oncologist.
Then, as long as the employee can do the job, the employer must make reasonable accommodation for the disability-for example, removing physical barriers (installing ramps or elevators), providing a computer screen with large type and/or voice enhancement, and allowing the employee’s service dog to come to work.
But accommodating people with disabilities is more than that. It requires looking at how the office is operated, how people treat the one with the disability, how programs are run, and the role of respect and inclusion.
©2008 The Triological Society