A psychiatric disability is a diagnosed mental illness or disorder that substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provide protection to all qualified individuals with disabilities, as defined by these statutes, including psychiatric conditions. The University of Michigan mandates that faculty and staff act in accordance with these laws and make reasonable accommodation to the known disabilities of employees and students at the University.
Individuals with psychiatric diagnoses such as major depression, bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness), and schizophrenia may be covered by the ADA depending on how the condition affects their functioning. Other disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) may also be considered disabilities for purposes of the ADA. The key to determining what constitutes a disability under the law is not the name of the impairment but rather the effect of the impairment on the life of that particular person. It is important to keep in mind that each person's situation is unique and must, therefore, be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. University policy requires that diagnosis of a psychiatric disability be made by a physician with specialized training in psychiatry or a psychologist who possesses a doctoral degree.
The ADA does not generally cover impairments that are temporary and that have little or no long-term impact on the individual. It is important to emphasize that the legal qualifications for disability are stringent. Adjustment disorders commonly occurring during periods of high stress, such as change, would not meet the criteria for severity or chronicity. Also, traits or behaviors such as irritability, chronic lateness, and poor judgment are not, in themselves, mental impairments, although they may be symptomatic of a psychiatric disability.
Accommodating Employees with PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES Home
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