Are We Are All Disabled Now?

Is it a disability to be shy?  Perhaps, since the courts have defined anything that significantly affects your ability to engage in sexual relations as a disability, and shyness is certainly no help on that front.   Similarly, being short may now be a disability, since short men are much more likely to never get married than tall men.

In the Washington Examiner, Melanie Scarborough writes about an appellate court ruling in Adams v. Rice declaring that a woman is entitled to be treated as legally disabled because her breast cancer treatment, although successful, negatively affected her body image, and thus, made her more reluctant to enter into romance.

I, too, must be disabled under the court’s theory, since I didn’t get married, engage in sexual relations, or reproduce until my 30’s, owing in large part to shyness.   My mother, who was also shy as a young woman, didn’t get married and have kids until after most of her co-workers and college classmates, even though she was generally viewed as being pretty.  

Moreover, the law is so broad that I don’t have to rely on shyness to qualify as being disabled: the fact that I suffer from insomnia is an independent basis for me qualifying for disabled status, according to federal appeals courts.

The definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act is already very broad.  But the House has passed legislation that would broaden it even further, which the Senate will likely enact into law.  (This legislation is known variously as the ADA Amendments Act and the ADA Restoration Act).  Amazingly, some business lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce are going along with this legislation, after it was narrowed slightly to designate a wide array of conditions as new disabilities per se, rather than adopting a much broader general definition of “disability,” the way the original version of this legislation did.   

It’s odd how some business lobbies will fight tooth-and-nail to limit administrative agencies’ ability to award more workers compensation to badly-injured blue-collar workers, like steelworkers who suffer severe burns, but they won’t fight that hard against bills that would enrich trial lawyers, like expansions of disabilities-rights or sexual harassment law that allow people who have suffered nothing more than hurt feelings or minor inconvenience to sue for emotional distress and punitive damages.  

State legislatures are also busy passing new laws to afflict employers.  Some states define “disability” even more broadly than federal law.  Other states, like New Jersey, permit plaintiffs to recover multiples of their actual attorneys fees, allowing a bigger multiplier when a plaintiff wins a weaker case (see, e.g., Rendine v. Panzer (1995).  And cities such as Washington, D.C., Boston, and Cambridge prohibit discrimination against ex-cons.