WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Monday that long-term symptoms of COVID-19 could be considered a disability under federal civil-rights laws, an announcement timed to coincide with the 31st anniversary of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act.
“Many Americans seemingly recovered from the virus still face lingering challenges like breathing problems, brain fog, chronic pain and fatigue,” Biden said during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, where he signed a proclamation commemorating the 1990 law that passed with bipartisan support.
“These conditions can sometimes rise to the level of a disability,” Biden said. “So we’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long covid, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law, which includes accommodations and services.”
Earlier Monday, the Biden administration released guidance stating that what is known as “long covid” could be considered a disability under various federal civil rights laws that would afford protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.
As part of that effort, the Department of Education issued a document providing information about the responsibility of schools to provide services and “reasonable modifications” for children for whom long covid is a disability.
The guidance issued by the administration makes clear that long covid is not automatically a disability and that an “individualized assessment” is required to determine whether a person’s long-term symptoms “substantially limits a major life activity.”
In remarks before signing the proclamation, Biden seemed wistful for the way Washington used to work, pointing to leaders from both parties who made the ADA a reality. Several veteran lawmakers who were in Congress at the time, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were in attendance.
The legislation was signed by President George H.W. Bush.
“This was a Democratic bill signed by a Republican president, a product of passion and compassion, not partisanship progress,” said Biden, who as a senator from Delaware was a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It wasn’t political, but personal to millions of families.”
“For our nation, the ADA is more than the law as well,” Biden continued. “It’s a testament to our character as a people, our character as Americans. It’s a triumph of American values. But of course, this law didn’t bring an end to the work we need to do today.”
He said the classification of long covid as a possible disability would “help Americans grappling with long-term effects of covid-19 that doctors call long covid.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before Biden, called the ADA “a very important beginning.”
“But there is still so much work to be done,” she said. “The president and I will continue to fight with you to make America more accessible for all people.”