Is Stuttering a Disability Covered Under the Protection of the ADA?
I was wondering if stuttering was considered a disability under protection of the ADA? Can a person be rejected for a job based on stuttering or any other speech impediment? Sometimes, jobs require strong oral and written communication skills. In that situation, can an applicant be rejected for stuttering or speech impediments?
Hello. I am Alan Goldstein, a Senior Attorney with Equip for Equality and Manager of the Illinois ADA Project. Your question poses an interesting question and was forwarded to me for a response.
Initially, it should be noted that a Court in Ohio has held that a person who stutters is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In general, under the ADA, a person is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Speaking is considered a "major life activity" under the ADA. In order for an individual who stutters to be protected under the ADA, the impairment must "substantially limit" the major life activity of speaking. In determining whether the stuttering results in a substantial limitation of speaking, the nature and degree of the stuttering must be examined.
If the stuttering is substantially limiting then the person will be deemed to have a disability under the ADA. However, in order to be protected under the law, the person must also be "qualified" to perform the "essential functions" of the position with or without a "reasonable accommodation." "Essential functions" are fundamental job duties. In the question you raised, oral communication may be considered an essential job function. In most cases, a person who stutters can still communicate orally, however it may take them a little longer.
In addition, reasonable accommodations must be explored. A "Reasonable accommodation" is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that allows a person to perform the fundamental job duties. For someone who stutters, reasonable accommodations may include:
- Providing or modifying equipment or devices
- Job restructuring
- Part-time or modified work schedules
- Job reassignment
- Providing readers, interpreters, or other workplace assistance
Therefore, even if it is determined that the person cannot perform the essential functions of the job do to their stuttering, reasonable accommodations must be explored to see if this will help them do the job.
It is also worth noting that a person cannot be rejected from the job due to the fear of adverse reactions from the public. In that case, it may be deemed that the person is being "regarded as" having a disability even if they do not have a "substantial limitation of a major life activity."
I did not cite the legal authorities for the answer but am attaching a more detailed explanation on the topic of stuttering that includes the legal citations.
On a final note, your question made me think of the story of Moses from the Book of Exodus in the Bible. God asked Moses, via a burning bush, to go to Pharaoh and tell Pharaoh to free the Hebrews. Moses did not want to undertake this task and told God that he felt unfit for the job as he was "slow of speech and tongue." God then said that he would send Moses' brother Aaron with him to relay Moses' words to Pharaoh. Thus, God provided the first reasonable accommodation.
I hope this information helps answer your question. Please feel free to contact me if you desire any additional information.
Alan M. Goldstein
The Illinois ADA Project at Equip for Equality