Long COVID Could Qualify as a Disability Under the American Disabilities Act

A young white woman in a hospital bed.

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Key Takeaways

  • On Monday, July 26, President Biden announced a policy directive to qualify long-term COVID-19 illness as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Studies estimate that at least 20% of COVID-19 patients experience one post-COVID condition, such as pain or difficulty breathing. 
  • If the policy directive becomes a new legal requirement, people with long COVID will be able to access federal resources and protections.

On July 26, President Biden announced that long COVID could soon qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This new designation would allow people with long COVID to access federal resources and protections.

Of nearly two million COVID-19 patients, studies estimate that 23.2% have at least one post-COVID condition. The five most common long haul conditions are:

  • Pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Fatigue
  • Hypertension

“More than 30 million Americans are COVID-19 survivors and up to 30% of them may experience some degree of long-term COVID, which is 10% of the U.S. population and the numbers are growing,” William Li, MD, internal medicine doctor, tells Verywell. 

How the Disability Designation Will Help 

Although Biden’s announcement serves as a policy directive rather than a new legal requirement, Erin Jackson, JD, a healthcare attorney at Jackson LLP Healthcare Lawyers, tells Verywell that the announcement is a big deal. 

“Civil rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have historically struggled to keep up with the times," Jackson says. "They often lag behind socially accepted change. This announcement signifies a timely reaction to our growing awareness of COVID’s impact, and it signals that those who suffer from post-COVID disabilities will be protected.” 

What the ADA Does

The ADA is a federal law that protects people with disabilities. If COVID-19 were to qualify as a disability, people with long COVID would be able to access reasonable accommodations and protections—one of which is the prohibition of discrimination.

“The ADA prohibits schools and healthcare providers from discriminating against those with disabilities," Jackson says. "So they will need to determine alternative ways to provide the same educational or medical services while reducing disability-related barriers."

For example, a school may begin offering aides to students experiencing lingering cognitive effects from COVID-19 infecton.

Under the ADA, there would also be employee protections for people with long COVID. Employers with more than 15 employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

People with disabilities have rights and protections at work. Reasonable accommodations according to the ADA include but are not limited to:

  • Job task change
  • Reserved parking spot 
  • Improved accessibility to work areas
  • Change in the presentation of tests and training materials 
  • Product, equipment, or software adjustment 
  • Work schedule flexibility 

Qualifying for Disability

The ADA is a flexible law that does not have strict definitions on who is and is not protected.

“Instead it is broad enough to acknowledge that humans experience identical conditions in very different ways," Jackson says. "And it says that the law will protect them when those experiences become disabling."

According to Jackson, to be protected by the ADA, an individual needs to prove that they are experiencing a substantial impairment—meaning a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, such as:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Seeing
  • Lifting
  • Bending

“Employers can ask job applicants if they are able to perform a job’s basic functions and what accommodations they might need,” Jackson says, adding that as long as employees can assert that they have a qualifying disability, they will be protected by the ADA. 

What This Means For You

If you have long COVID, you might be able to get help from the government. To learn about how to qualify and apply for disability, visit the Social Security Administration's (SSA) disability benefits page.

Looking Ahead

There are still many unknowns about long COVID. Researchers around the world and government public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to better understand long COVID and find ways to treat it.

As the people living with lingering COVID symptoms try to adapt, President Biden’s announcement takes a first step in accommodating their needs.

“There is still a ton of work to be done to solve the mysteries of long-term COVID," Li says. "Until then, making long-term [COVID a] disability will be a big step forward to help millions of people navigate their lives as they recover."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fair Health. A Detailed Study of Patients With Long-Haul COVID.

  2. ADA National Network. Reasonable Accomodations in the Workplace

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.