COVID has been a nightmare for many people. Unfortunately, it isn’t a nightmare that lets go of people easily. The sickness it causes is often along the lines of a really bad flu now, but, for some people, it continues well beyond this initial stage through what is being called “long COVID.”
Long COVID is still something that we are learning about. Basically, people are testing clean but still feeling the effects of the illness. They might not be a risk of infecting new people, but they certainly aren’t doing well themselves. With how new this sickness is, you may be asking yourself whether or not your long COVID qualifies as a disability.
The answer is that long COVID can be considered a disability and qualify as one according to the American Disability Act, Section 504 and 1557. But not all long COVID counts as a disability. We’ll see why that is by first exploring when long COVID is and isn’t a disability, discussing the impairments associated with it, and exploring what rights those with long COVID have under law.
When is Long COVID a Disability and When is it Not?
Long COVID can be a disability, but it isn’t always a disability. This may seem a bit confusing; after all, if it can be a disability, then shouldn’t it always be one? But the answer is no, it depends on how you have been affected by it. Not everybody has the same symptoms, and they aren’t always severe enough to count as a disability.
To understand when long COVID is a disability, we need to look at what counts as a disability in the first place. That’s where Section 504 and 1557 of the American Disability Act come into play. These inform us that a disability is something that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
So if you have long COVID and it has left you with some symptoms, they don’t count as a disability on their own. But should those symptoms limit or prevent you from performing major life activities, such as working or caring for yourself, then it would count as a disability.
This means that every case of long COVID has to be looked at individually to determine whether or not the illness would count as a disability. So let’s look at the impairments associated with long COVID to see which could count as a disability.
What Impairments May Make Long COVID Count As a Disability?
So a disability is a condition that substantially limits a person’s ability to take part in major life activities. This provokes a couple of additional questions. First, what impairments could come about because of long COVID? Second, what major life activities could be impacted due to them?
According to the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, long COVID can potentially lead to the following impairments:
- Damage to the heart
- Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Neurological damage
- Damage to the lungs
- Damage to the kidneys
- Damage to the circulatory system
- Brain fog
- Emotional illness
- A slew of different mental health conditions
These can negatively impact a person in many different ways. For example, neurological damage could make it literally impossible for a person to continue their line of work, or heart damage can reduce their ability to continue strenuous labor.
Various major life activities that long COVID could substantially limit include (but are not limited to):
- Taking care of yourself
- Performing manual tasks
- Your ability to work
- Your sight
- Your hearing
- Your ability to eat
- Your ability to sleep
- Walking, standing, sitting, or all three
- Reaching, lifting, bending, or all three
- Your ability to speak and comprehend a conversation
- Your ability to breathe and take in enough oxygen to speak or perform manual tasks
- Your ability to learn new information
- Reading, or your concentration in general
- Writing, thinking, or communicating
- Your ability to interact with other people
What Rights Do People with Long Covid as a Disability Have?
When long COVID counts as a disability, it grants that individual the same protections against discrimination that any other disabled individual would be granted. For example, an individual that needs a service animal because of their dizziness or lack of coordination would have “no pet” policies modified so that they could include their service animal.
Students that are suffering mental symptoms related to their long COVID could be granted additional time for school work or additional time to work on a test. Those suffering from fatigue could be allowed to sit rather than stand in line without losing their spot.
The American Disability Act also offers protections against discrimination, similarly to the way that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes many kinds of discrimination illegal. This is important for those who are worried about losing their jobs because of their disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or qualified applicants.
It also protects disabled individuals from discrimination on the basis of their disability in state and local government services, as well as public accommodations and in commercial facilities. So while living with a disability can be difficult, those who qualify as disabled due to their long COVID are expected to be given reasonable accommodations so that they don’t have to miss out on life simply because of their condition.
How Should I Apply for Disability Benefits?
While you can apply for disability benefits on your own, it is best to work with an experienced disability attorney to do so. They will be able to help you to gather and provide the necessary information for your application, as well as help you continue to refine your application to get a second look should you be denied.
While roughly 3 out of 10 applicants are approved on their first time, examination shows that many of those who are had the assistance of a qualified attorney or somebody that has gone through the experience before. So for the best shot, you should seek assistance.