“Long COVID” Can Be a Disability

On July 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division issued guidance stating that “long COVID” can be disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Section 1557), giving long-haulers protections against disability discrimination.  The U.S. Department of Education has similarly said that long COVID or other conditions resulting from COVID-19 may make students eligible for services and accommodations in school through a Section 504 Plan or an IEP.

            “Long COVID” refers to a condition experienced by some COVID-19 survivors in which they continue suffer from complications months after they are infected. Long COVID can be debilitating. Symptoms include fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, brain fog, headache, fever, dizziness, muscle pain, and depression or anxiety. People who experience these long-term complications often find that the symptoms affect everyday life, including work and school.

            Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557, a “disability” is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity (caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, etc.). These federal laws protect people with disabilities against discrimination. The protections against disability discrimination are in place even during emergencies like the current pandemic. 

            If a person’s long COVID substantially limits one or more major life activities, that person has a disability and is protected against disability discrimination under federal law. For example, if someone with long COVID has suffered lung damage and struggles to breathe, that qualifies as a disability and that person may be entitled to certain protections.  However, just because long COVID can be a disability, that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a disability. If a person has long COVID but is not limited in a major life activity (and has no other disability), that person does not have a disability under federal law.

            If a person with long COVID has a disability under federal law, they may be entitled to reasonable modifications from businesses and the government. In the school setting, a student suffering from long COVID may qualify for a Section 504 Plan or IEP. In addition, students who already have a Section 504 Plan or IEP and ware suffering from long COVID may be entitled to different related services or modifications to accommodate their symptoms.

            If your child suffers from long COVID or another condition resulting from COVID and is struggling in school as a result, you may request that the school conduct an evaluation to determine whether your child is eligible for aids and services under Section 504 or the IDEA. If your child suffers from long COVID and already has a Section 504 Plan or IEP, you may request a meeting to discuss additional services and accommodations.

            If your child has a disability as a result of long COVID or another condition and you are looking for assistance in asserting your child’s rights in school, please do not hesitate to contact us.

by Diana Maltz

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