Burn Scars – ADA – Perceived Disability

This article from August 16, 2011, “Americans With Disabilities Experiencing Record Unemployment Rate” completely ignores burn victims who have not been hired because of their “perceived disability” when in fact there is no disability. Of course, when you’re treated as disabled but are in fact not disabled, there is no recourse. Yes, the ADA (ADAAA) and EEOC explicitly* covers burn victims as a “protected class,” but in real life people have a difficult time grasping how a “perceived disability” has any real harm. I’ll write more about this (not an easy topic): since 2005 I’ve been an “unemployed librarian” by trade, and I say unemployed librarian because I’ve applied to nearly every entry-level librarian opening within 100 miles of Tampa Bay Florida, and though I’ve had several interviews (and job offers) nothing has materialized (even the job offer was retracted after I accepted). During one interview the library director would not even maintain eye contact or shack my hand, and finally the reason I was not offered the position was that they didn’t think I was a “good fit” with the library. Whatever that means. I filed a complaint with the county HR, and the response was the director is a well respected professional, and that perhaps I should work on my interviewing skills. And for a complete waste of time, I filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The FCHR’s refused to make a determination because I could not explain what “major life activity” was impaired, which is exactly the point–there is no major life impairment: I’ve been “regarded as having” or “perceived disabled” when in fact I’m not disabled. See, ADAAA Section 12102 (3)(A). Also see this excellent law review article by Dale Larson, “Unconsciously Regarded As Disabled: Implicit Bias and the Regarded-As Prong of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

At times, I feel as if my adult career has been defined by applying to job openings, but that really wouldn’t be very accurate (memorable interview experiences). I will say I’ve always had a difficult time closing the interview in Florida versus DC or Chicago, where if I made it to an interview almost certainly I was offered the position. Florida, not so, the interview is the kiss of death. There’s an idea in Florida that there is always a better candidate, and definitely one not burned. This is, of course, is a generalization of Florida business practices. Also, at my current age I could be experiencing age discrimination, or even “over-educated” discrimination. I mean really, who wants a librarian with a juris doctorate degree and two decades of frontline customer experience in the demanding Information Technology field?

* “For example, persons with severe burns often encounter discrimination in community activities, resulting in substantial limitation of major life activities. These persons would be covered under this test based on the attitudes of others towards the impairment, even if they did not view themselves as “impaired.”” 28 CFR Part 35, 1992

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