Taking Time Off to Have a Baby

Pregnancy and Disability Insurance

April the Giraffe finally gave birth to her first calf—a boy—with her partner, Oliver, on April 15.

The Council for Disability Awareness’ guest blogger, Bryon Bass, uses April’s experience to help women who are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) understand the ins and outs of leaving work, and the benefits that may be available to them through employer’s parental leave policy, and short- and long-term disability insurance.

April the Giraffe was quite the internet sensation! Some 20 million people around the world followed her seemingly endless pregnancy until she gave birth to a male calf on April 15.

Although currently closed for the season, the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, April’s home, jumped on the opportunity to raise awareness about giraffes and the educational animal park itself by live-streaming the giraffe enclosure via Facebook and YouTube. At times, more than 250 thousand were on the live stream at once tracking her progress.

Pregnancy: A Waiting Game

April’s story inspired pregnant human Erin Dietrich to don a giraffe mask and post her own parody of the giraffe watch on Facebook. However, Dietrich welcomed her own baby boy, on March 8.

Pregnant women and their partners might empathize with April. Pregnancy involves much anticipation, preparation and uncertainty. As April’s keepers know, eating healthful foods is important for expectant moms, so they monitor her diet carefully.

For humans, Womenshealth.gov advises consuming more protein, iron, calcium and folic acid, as well as additional calories. “Sensible, balanced meals combined with regular physical fitness is still the best recipe for good health during your pregnancy,” the website notes.

Expectant moms know they ought to eat well, but there are many aspects of pregnancy and preparation for life beyond that are not as clear.

Everyone’s experience is unique, and, for most people, navigating what comes next—not only the changes a baby brings, but also immediate questions about leave from work and health benefits—can be an unfamiliar and complicated process.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers pregnancy as a serious health condition.

Mothers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of time away from work to prepare for and recover from delivery, including time away from work for prenatal visits. But FMLA provides job and benefits protection only.

Pregnancy and Short-Term Disability Insurance

For income replacement, some employers offer short-term disability (STD) benefits, and a handful of states, including New York where April lives, provide state disability insurance (SDI) benefits for pregnancy.

Typically, maternity leave eligibility begins either when a healthcare provider says the mother can no longer work or approximately two weeks prior to the estimated delivery date. And coverage continues for six weeks following delivery (and, sometimes, eight weeks following a C-section), unless complications arise.

In April’s situation, her due date was mid-February. Therefore, her FMLA and STD/SDI could have begun at the beginning of February. We know not all babies are born when planned, and complications sometimes occur. In April’s case, she would be entitled to 26 weeks of STD/SDI benefits. After that period, she might need to transition to long-term disability (LTD) if she continues to be disabled beyond that period.

But wait—after 12 weeks, her job would no longer be protected, right? Not necessarily.

Typically, normal pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, if a complication occurs, the pregnancy and recovery would likely rise to the level of a covered disability.

Also, in many states, including New York, reasonable accommodation of pregnancy-related conditions is the law.

In that case, April could be provided with leave as an accommodation, if there is some evidence she could return to work soon. In April’s case, I would have granted her additional leave. April’s FMLA protection ran out on April 19, so the interactive discussion should probably start soon!

Healthcare Coverage After the Baby is Born

After a baby is born, many parents seize the opportunity to bond with their new child.

Increasingly, employers are offering paid-parental leave to bond with children. And, some states offer job-protected leave beyond the 12 weeks FMLA guarantees.

In April’s case, she currently lives in a state where she is limited to the FMLA protection of 12 weeks, and she doesn’t work for an employer who provides paid-parental leave.

There is good news, however; in 2018, New York will provide paid family leave of up to 12 weeks to cover care for family members and to bond with a new child.

Remember, fathers also are entitled to time for bonding with their new children. So, expectant dad Oliver—seen pacing in the background of the giraffe cam—and April planned their own leave after the baby was born. Now that April’s newfound fame has made her the breadwinner of the family, they decided that after April’s six to eight week recovery, she will return to work and Oliver will take 12 weeks off to bond with the baby. Although it will be unpaid, the time spent with baby giraffe will be worth its weight in gold.

Healthcare coverage is important to a developing child, so April and Oliver added “baby boy g” to their health insurance.

Babies need nine well-baby visits and 16 immunizations during the first year. These preventive services are generally included at no additional cost under most insurance plans.

Having a baby is a qualifying event which allows the ability to change benefits outside of the open enrollment period. Most plans typically require changes to occur within 30-60 days of the event; coverage is retroactive to the child’s date of birth. After that, waiting until open enrollment is the only option.

Originally published on Sedgwick Blog.

Americans with Disabilities Vote: Where do the Candidates Stand?

Americans with Disabilities Vote: Where do the Candidates Stand?

As we approach the 2016 Presidential Election (mark your calendars for November 8!), it’s time for Americans to determine who we want to be our next leader. We all have different hot-button issues and criteria we use to judge various candidates, and America’s estimated 56.7 million people living with a disability certainly have plenty to consider when it comes time to vote. Which candidate will provide meaningful support for Americans with disabilities?

Who will make disability-related issues a priority?

Unfortunately, the candidates haven’t proposed much in the way of substantive action in regards to disability issues, but let’s have a look to see where the 2016 frontrunners appear to stand on issues, like healthcare and employment, which affect Americans with disabilities.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton – Clinton has outlined an overview of disability rights on her website. In regards to health care issues, she supports President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and opposes a single-payer health insurance scheme.

Bernie Sanders – Speaking of single-payer health insurance, this is where Sanders and Clinton differ in regards to health care. Sanders has stated he would end Medicare and Medicaid, and institute a universal health care plan in which all Americans are covered. In his own words: “My proposal, provide health care to all people, get private insurance out of health insurance, lower the cost of health care for middle class families…”

The Republicans

Donald TrumpTrump has been accused of antagonizing many groups, including people with disabilities. As for his stand on health care, Trump has pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare with Health Savings Accounts.

Jeb Bush – Bush wrote this piece about empowering people with disabilities on the 25th anniversary of his father signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. He has put forth a plan to replace Obamacare, which in his words would promote innovation, lower costs, and return power to states.

Ted Cruz Cruz has led the charge to defund Obamacare, including an epic 21-hour marathon speech railing against it in 2013. He released an alternative plan, the Health Care Choices Act, in 2015.

Chris Christie – The former New Jersey governor has proposed dramatic changes to Social Security, including raising the retirement age to 69. You can read more about his take on issues, including his views on disability insurance, here.

Marco Rubio – Rubio has pledged to “Address Disability Stigma Head-On.” He has discussed “skills training, new technologies, and competency-based learning as ways to ‘close the gap’” for people with disabilities to find jobs.

How Will Americans with Disabilities Vote?

Of course, this is just a handful of candidates and only a brief look at what they stand for on individual issues. Those concerned with rights for Americans with disabilities should evaluate the candidates’ stances on issues such as employment and education opportunities, in addition to their views on healthcare and laws to prevent discrimination in access or hiring.

Regardless of what moves the needle for you, let’s hope the 2016 candidates make disability-related issues more of a priority. They have an opportunity to reach a sizable portion of the U.S. population if they do. And for the millions of Americans with disabilities, this is a great opportunity to elect a leader who will advocate for causes that matter to them.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Empowering a Generation

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Empowering a GenerationBy Anjali J. Forber-Pratt

I never thought that day would come when I would start a blog post or conversation with: “Well, back in my day…” But alas, that time has come. 

Back in my day, life was much different than it is today. I acquired my disability, transverse myelitis, when I was four and a half months old and became paralyzed from the waist down. About six years later, President George H. W. Bush made history when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990.

As a six year old, I do not remember this as a momentous occasion. But what I do remember is this.

As a young child, I thought everybody in the world had a disability and that it was a phase I would outgrow. I also thought in order to grow up and go to college, have a job, start a family, live on my own—I first had to learn how to walk. Why? Nearly every adult I knew could walk. Therefore, in my mind, I held this assumption that in order to gain access to these opportunities I had to make my disability disappear. 

And Then Came the Americans with Disabilities Act 

Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its precursors, persons with disabilities are, in fact, able to hold jobs and be contributing members of society. I eventually was able to meet these adults with disabilities and learned I could grow up and be somebody despite having a disability. 

I also learned the Americans with Disabilities Act had certain protections that applied to me when I started high school. I faced tremendous inaccessibility issues and discriminatory attitudes because of my disability. When I couldn’t resolve these challenges, I filed a civil rights lawsuit against my school district. Ultimately, my federal suit was one of the first where punitive and compensatory damages were awarded under the Americans with Disabilities Act in a public education setting. I did not fully appreciate exactly how precedent setting that was. That moment remains one of my proudest accomplishments. 

Obtaining my high school diploma was my golden ticket to go on to university, eventually get my Ph.D., and join the working world.

Ever since I was old enough to work, I always held at least one part-time job. As people with disabilities are often lumped into abysmal unemployment statistics or low levels of education, I am also proud of these accomplishments. That is not to say that access to employment and being welcomed as an employee with a disability did not come without its challenges. 

Growing Up with a Disability

As a teenager and young adult, I struggled the most with getting my foot in the door to show I was capable of performing the duties of whatever the job was.

Many retail places turned me away when I simply asked for an application. I was unable to get “normal” early employment experiences such as babysitting, mowing lawns or shoveling snow because of my disability.

But, I learned how to advocate for myself.

What started as volunteer experiences eventually morphed into paid work with people who had grown to know me and see me for me. One of the best and most accessible jobs I ever held as a young adult was the summer I worked in a pre-school. Everything was my-sized! 

Fast-forwarding to 2015, I had the pleasure to spend the week before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with young kids and teens with disabilities and their families.

I love being able to interact with kids—some of whom recently acquired their disability, others who have been living with their disability for several years, and all of whom are significantly younger than me.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Twenty-five Years Later

I was humbled and proud to see their world is different from mine when I was the same age.

They could not imagine some of the experiences I shared with them and asked me if I knew these incidents were illegal! Today’s youth with disabilities are very aware there are laws protecting them. I was so happy to see they have big dreams, career goals and are empowered.

No, America is not perfect. There still is plenty of room for improvement and to, hopefully, change those appalling disability statistics plaguing our population. However, hearing a kid say he can get whatever job he wants with just a little support in place is exciting. 

So is talking with a teenager who graduated from college and is working at a law firm, or hearing a 13-year-old explain she educates her friends about why it’s hurtful and harmful to park in an accessible parking spot when you don’t have a placard or plate. 

Even though my lawsuit and experiences took place after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, as with any law, there is always a period of adjustment. It takes time for the letter of the law to become ingrained in people’s hearts and for senior leadership in schools, organizations, and corporations to learn how the law applies to them.

The signing of the ADA in 1990 granted civil rights to persons with disabilities but, as we know from similar movements in our U.S. history, the power and true effects of this equality are not felt overnight.

The ADA Generation

I am on the older end of what is considered the “ADA Generation” since the Americans with Disabilities Act was on the books as law the majority of my life. But this new generation of youth always had the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is no “pre-ADA” period for them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act generation is unique and they have a bubbling sense of expectation when it comes to disability rights. I like the phrase “sense of expectation” versus entitlement because it captures the optimism our youth with disabilities exudes. It captures the eye-roll I get from teenagers with disabilities who are quick to point out that “of course” they can be whatever they want to be and “of course” there are laws designed to promote access and civil rights. 

Senator Harkin further explains the ADA generation as,

“those who have grown up since the ADA was passed [and] have high expectations of themselves and of our country. They expect to be part of their communities, to have a job, to be responsible for themselves, and to make their own decisions about their own lives. Their high expectations will ensure that our society continues to become more inclusive and more accessible.”

I am hopeful the ADA Generation will continue to forge ahead and carry the torch from the many pioneers who came before us.

There are too many to list, but each and every one of these individuals is my hero. It is because of their work that I received an education, hold a job, live independently, and am able to interact with the world around me.

We have certainly come a very long way, but there is still more ground to cover! 

photo credit: Cool Sun Glasses via photopin (license)

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Creating Better Workplaces

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Creating Better WorkplacesBy Daris Freeman, assistant counsel, Unum

Walking into work today, I passed the reserved parking spaces close to the door, stepped up the curb cut, watched as the wide automatic door opened for a colleague, and felt the Braille labels on the elevator buttons.

Once in the office, I saw a coworker using technology for the hearing-impaired and another with screen adaptors on her computer monitor to accommodate vision problems.

As an employee of a disability insurer, I expect my workplace to be welcoming for people with disabilities. But the accommodations I see around me today are found in work and public places nationwide, from the smallest offices to mid-size retailers to large industrial complexes, and in schools, libraries and shopping malls.

It’s hard to imagine our lives without these support features for people with disabilities. For this, we can thank the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which turns 25 at the end of July 2015. This legislation banned discrimination against people with disabilities (or people who were perceived to have a disability) and required business, buildings, transportation, public transportation and other services to accommodate the disabled. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) further broadened and clarified the definition of disability and tried to strike a balance between employer and employee interests.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Workplace

The disability insurance industry works tirelessly to help people who experience unexpected illnesses and injuries that result in a break from work—a break that sometimes lasts weeks, months, or years. We see firsthand how frustrating it can be to manage the limitations that sometimes remain after an illness or injury. But, we also see hundreds of thousands of people who want to make the most of their capabilities and get back to work.

The resources available to help people with disabilities in the workplace are many. The need for accommodations enforced by the Americans with Disabilities Act drove advancements over the last two-and-a-half decades in everything from office furniture to assistive technology.  Although people assume these accommodations are costly, the Department of Labor says nearly 60 percent cost little to nothing with the rest averaging about $500.

The Census Bureau indicates one in five of us has some type of a disability, and this is expected to increase as Americans continue to age. The broad definitions of disability under ADAAA include diminishing vision and arthritis, for instance, and may require our workplaces to adjust in ways they haven’t in the past.

Working Together for Greater Opportunity

Despite significant progress since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we still have work to do to overcome hurdles to more fully integrate employees in the workplace. We focus on these challenges daily and work closely with business leaders to help them understand their obligations under the law and the value of these investments in their employees.

If you’d like to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor.

A Look Back in History: The Americans with Disabilities Act

A Look Back in History: The Americans with Disabilities Act Most of us have friends or family members with a disability, or we might even have one ourselves.

Despite that fact, we often don’t think about how protections such as the Americans with Disabilities Act provide equal opportunities for everyone in our country. 

On July 26th the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 25th anniversary. Therefore this week we will be focusing in on the act, it’s history, and how it has affected millions of Americans both here on our blog and through our social networks. 

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA became law on July 26, 1990. This civil rights law protects individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including:

  • Jobs
  • Schools
  • Transportation
  • All public and private places that are open to the general public

Today, we celebrate and honor this significant civil rights victory by looking back at the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Civil Rights Movement In The 1960s

The civil rights movement of the 1960s gave rise to other civil rights movements, most notably the women’s rights movement, and the disability rights movement.

While minorities and women were protected by civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress during the 1960s, the rights of people with disabilities were not protected by federal legislation until much later.

During the 1960s, three major pieces of civil rights legislation were passed by the United States Congress. These pieces of legislation were:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: This act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. Broad in scope, it covered those receiving federal funds, employers, and places of public accommodation such as bus stations and restrooms.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965: This protected the rights of minorities to vote in elections.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1968: The act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and sex in the sale and rental of housing.

However, none of these acts did not protect people with disabilities. The disability rights movement grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Disability Protection Begins In The 1970s

Discrimination against people with disabilities was not addressed until 1973 when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law.

For the first time, with this act, segregation of people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination. Before this act, it was assumed that challenges faced by people with disabilities, were inevitable consequences or mental limitations imposed by the disability itself.

Section 504 recognized that the inferior social and economic status of individual with disabilities was not a consequence of the disability itself, but rather a result of societal barriers and prejudices.

However,  Section 504 did not protect people with disabilities from discrimination by:

  • Employers
  • Public accommodations in the private sector
  • Publicly funded programs
  • Those providing federal financial assistance

It took the Americans with Disabilities Act to address these areas not covered by Section 504.

Disability Movement Continues in 1980s

In 1986, the National Council on Disability (NCD) recommended enactment of the ADA.

The NCD drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Senator Tom Harkin, author and chief sponsor of the final bill, delivered part of his introduction speech in sign language, so that his deaf brother could understand.

Also, in 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to add two new classes, people with disabilities and families with children.

Disability Protection Becomes  Law  in 1990s

The American with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush.

Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation to prohibit discrimination and guarantee individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else in America.

To be protected by the act, an individual must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • A person who has a history or record of such an impairment.
  • A person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Amendment To The ADA in 2000s

An amendment to the ADA, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), was enacted on September 25, 2008, and became effective on January 1, 2009.

This law made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The definition was expanded to include the following impairments which weren’t part of the original ADA law:

  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder

The Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates 25 Years in 2015

On July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its 25 year anniversary.

You too can be part of the celebration of this momentous milestone in American civil rights history. Learn how you can get involved in The ADA Legacy Project as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.