Allergies Asthma Are Asthma and Allergies Disabilities?

Americans with Disabilities Act: How it affects you if you have asthma or allergies

Do allergens at work make you sick? The ADA can protect you. Has a preschool rejected your child? Or was your child left out of a field trip because a teacher was afraid to use an epinephrine auto-injector? Does a moldy carpet at work or school make you sick? Does stale smoke in offices, hotel rooms, or conference centers make it hard for you to work?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law. It gives people with disabilities the right to ask for changes where policies, prac­tices, or conditions leave you out or put you at a disadvantage. Public com­panies and places must give people with disabilities full access to all facilities, programs, goods, and services. They must also give them the chance to en­joy these places and services just like someone without disabilities.

The ADA borrows from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act says agencies, pro­grams, and services that receive federal money cannot discriminate based on disability when it comes to jobs or education.

This includes public accommodations, such as:

• Restaurants
• Hotels
• Theatres
• Stores
• Doctors’ offices
• Museums
• Non-religious private schools
• Child care programs

These places must be accessible to and usable by those with disabilities. No one can be left out or denied ser­vices because of a disability. They also cannot be left out due to ignorance, attitudes, or stereotypes others may have about disabilities.

Does the ADA Apply to People with Asthma and Allergies?
Yes. In both the ADA and Section 504, a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as having such impairments. Asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA.

Major life activities include:

  • Breathing
  • Eating
  • Working
  • Going to school

In 2008, the ADA was changed to include more people in the definition of “disabled.” Conditions that only show symptoms at certain times are now in­cluded. Asthma and allergies fit this definition. The ADA protects people with asthma and allergies even if reactions or attacks happen only when triggered. The ADA can help to create an environment where patients can avoid their triggers.

Also, use of medical aids or devices can no longer exclude them from ADA coverage. For example, it used to be that people with asthma who got relief from an inhaler were not covered by the ADA. The inhaler was thought to have removed the disability. With the 2008 changes, the ADA covers people with asthma and allergies even if medication controls their symptoms.

How Does the ADA Work?
The ADA helps people with asthma and allergies create safer, healthier environments where they work, shop, and eat. It also helps people who attend public schools and non-religious private schools, even if those schools do not receive federal funding. For example, a private pre­school may have to allow a child to use a quick-relief asthma inhaler during the day. Or, a company cannot refuse to hire a qualified person with food aller­gies because they may have to make the lunchroom allergy friendly.

In most cases, everyone works together to improve conditions and promote equal access and include those with disabilities. This is called an accommodation. Accommodations are made on an individual basis be­cause the needs of each person vary depending upon the situation.

Examples of accommodations could include:

  • Reorganizing work spaces to reduce odors
  • Restricting the use of allergens in classrooms
  • Removing old carpet

But an organization does not have to make an accommodation that causes an “undue burden” or that would create a “fundamental alteration” to its program. One example of an undue burden might be a small business without the money to cover the extra costs of an accommo­dation. Some accommodations may impact a company’s ability to do busi­ness, resulting in a major change. An organization must make a good-faith effort to find and make acceptable changes. Organizations can refuse to make accommodations only after they have considered all options. Finding what works may require creative think­ing and flexibility.

Making the ADA Work for You
If you or your child would like help due to asthma or allergies, speak with a school administrator, manager, em­ployer, human specialist, or disabilities service coordinator. They should know the procedure to help you get appropri­ate changes, aids, or services. You can call on a variety of sources for advice and creative, practical ideas.

The U.S. Department of Justice runs a hot­line where you can ask questions, get free materials, and find out how to file a com­plaint. The ADA Hotline number is (800) 514-0301 (voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TTY). There is also helpful information about the ADA on their website at

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2017.