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HIV Infection Is A Disability/Physical Impairment

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Generally, society does not accept individuals who are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV); also commonly referred as HIV positive. Generally, it is a commonly held belief throughout society that interacting with HIV positive individuals causes or spreads HIV infection. Generally, people avoid interacting with HIV infected people, they try to keep them away or shun them from regular social activities. However, recently efforts have increased to ensure that those living with HIV receive equal treatment as others in the society. Quite frankly, such unequal treatment is borne out of lifestyle value judgments, association stereotyping, and medical ignorance, really just another form of discrimination.

One of the well-known cases that have been decided in this regard is Randon Bragdon v. Sidney Abbott.

In this case, Sidney Abbott, an HIV infected person had visited a dentist, Randon Bragdon, for a dental appointment. She disclosed to the dentist on a patient registration form that she had been infected with HIV. The dentist completed his examination, discovered a cavity, and informed her of his policy of not filling the cavities of HIV infected people in his clinic. However, he offered to treat her in a hospital at the same charge. Abbott declined the dentist’s offer and filed a suit against him under Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990 (“ADA”) for discrimination.

Section 302 of ADA states:
“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation”.

The definition of public accommodation specifically includes the “professional office of a health care provider” or hospitals. Abbott alleged that she was discriminated on the basis of her disability; being HIV infected which affected her major life activity that being the ability to reproduce and bear children.

Physical impairment has been defined under Rehabilitation Act as:
“any physiological disorder or condition affecting the body’s hemic and lymphatic systems”.

Thus HIV infection satisfies the above definition of physical impairment from the beginning of infection and thru all stages of progression of the disease. The court observed that Abbott’s infection was at a lower level (asymptomatic stage) and had not progressed to a symptomatic stage. Hence, treating Abbott in his clinic by the dentist would not have been a direct threat to the health, welfare and safety of other people working in the clinic. Further, the court observed that Abbott’s HIV infection had substantially limited the major life activity of reproduction and bearing of children by Abbott.

The court cited the American Dental Association Policy, 1991 which states:
“Current scientific and epidemiologic evidence indicates that there is little risk of transmission of infectious diseases through dental treatment if recommended infection control procedures are routinely followed. Patients with HIV infection may be safely treated in private dental offices when appropriate infection control procedures are employed. Such infection control procedures provide protection both for patients and dental personnel”.

In view of the above, the court ruled that HIV infection is a disability that substantially limits major life activities of individuals even though the infection is at an asymptomatic stage and has not progressed to the symptomatic stage.
If you believe that, you are the victim of disability discrimination aka sexual harassment contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York at 1-800-371-4835. We will review your claim thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.

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