HIV as a Disability Under Antidiscrimination Law

This Resource Bank category includes court decisions, briefs and agency guidelines where the issue of whether HIV is a "disability" that is covered under federal (and some state) laws that prevent discrimination against people living with disabilities is a central part of the discussion. This category also includes other publications that discuss the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to discrimination based on a person's HIV status.

The meaning of "disability" in the context of antidiscrimination law is quite different than in public and private disability benefits programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI and SSI exist to provide benefits to individuals whose disabilities make full-time employment impossible. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act have a very different purpose than these programs. Congress passed the ADA and the Rehab Act in recognition that most people living with disabilities are perfectly abile to work, go to school, participate in social programs, and othewise engage fully and productively in society. Accordingly, the purpose of the ADA and the Rehab Act is to protect people with disabilities, including those living with HIV, from discrimination based on assumptions and prejudice about those disabilities that unnecessarily causes their different treatment and exclusion.

In 2008, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) that made it easier for those with HIV to meet the definition of disability under federal antidiscrimination laws. For example, under the ADAAA, people with HIV/AIDS can demonstrate that they have a covered disability simply by showing that their un-medicated HIV/AIDS substantially limits the functions of their immune system, i.e. to determine whether the normal functioning of an individual's immune system is substantially limited is determined by evaluating their health when not taking medication.