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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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I think my relative was discriminated against because of their mental illness
(for example, refused a job, fired, business would not serve him/her)

Two laws make it illegal for the government, businesses or your employer or school to treat you differently than other people because you have a mental illness. These laws are called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If you think that you have been treated differently because of your mental illness, there are places you can call to report this. They will listen to the problem and try to help you resolve it.

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If someone would not give you a job because you have a mental illness, or if your boss treated you unfairly, call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) 1-800-669-4000. They will help you find the office that is closest to you.

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If you were treated unfairly by a business, program or agency, call the U.S. Department of Justice at 1-800-514-0301. If you are not sure that you should make a complaint about what happened, or if you need help making a complaint, call the Client Assistance Program in Denver 1-722-0330.

Read on for more about the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A mental illness is considered to be a disability in terms of our country's laws. There are two laws that have been made to protect people who have a disability.

What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

The first law is called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first "rights" legislation that made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. This law only applied to programs conducted by Federal agencies, those receiving federal funds (such as colleges participating in federal student loan programs), Federal employment, and the employment practices of businesses with federal contracts.

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It is against the law for the government to treat a person with a disability differently than they would treat anybody else.

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It is against the law for any business or agency that gets money from the government to treat a person with a disability differently than they would treat anybody else.

A section of this law, Title V, talks about the kinds of accommodations that you can expect to be made for someone who has a disability. There are three sections in Title V.

Section 501

Requires affirmative action and prohibits discrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the Executive branch of the government.

Section 503

Requires affirmative action and prohibits discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000. Employers who most likely have these types of contracts include colleges and universities, job training programs and research companies.

Section 504

Requires that qualified individuals with disabilities shall not be excluded from, denied access to or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the U.S. Postal Service.

How the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has affected education?

Section 504 has promoted the development of disability support services in colleges and universities. It has also spurred the federal government to write disability employment policies. The "Handbook of Reasonable Accommodations" prepared by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management was the first such attempt to define the types of reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, but focused primarily on modifications for people with physical or sensory disabilities.

Section 504 does not require special education programming to be developed for students with disabilities but does require an institution to be prepared to make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices to allow for the full participation of students with disabilities. Persons diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric disability are protected by Section 504 if their condition substantially limits a major life activity such as learning, working, speaking, writing, walking, seeing, and hearing.

What is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans With Disabilities Act is almost the same as the Rehabilitation Act. The only difference is that it makes it against the law for anybody, not just the government, to treat people with disabilities differently.

People with mental illnesses are allowed to have jobs, be in public places and use government programs just like everyone else. 

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A business is not allowed to refuse to give someone with schizophrenia a job because that person has a mental illness.

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If the person with a mental illness has a job, it is illegal for his or her boss to treat that person differently than the other workers because they have a mental illness.

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A storeowner is not allowed to tell someone that they cannot shop there because that person has a mental illness.

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The Department of Motor Vehicles is not allowed to refuse to give someone a driver's license just because that person has a mental illness.

An employer has to make adjustments so that the person with a disability can do his or her job and be comfortable at work.

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The boss has to be told about the disability. If they do not know that the person has special needs, they do not have to make adjustments for them.

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They do not have to be told about the person's whole medical history. They only have to be told as much as they need to know in order to make the adjustments.

There are five sections in the Americans With Disabilities Act. They are described below.

Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against "qualified individuals with disabilities."

If a person has the right skills, experience and education to do a job, and as long as the employer can reasonably accommodate that person, they cannot be refused a job or fired from their job simply because they have a disability.

Who does this law apply to?

The law applies to any employer with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations and management committees. The Americans With Disabilities Act does not apply to the federal government. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 makes it illegal for them to discriminate against people with disabilities.

How does someone with a disability get reasonable accommodations under Title I?

It is your responsibility to tell the employer about the disability. If they do not know that someone has special needs then they do not have to accommodate that person. This does not mean that they need to know the person's whole medical history. They only need to know enough to decide if that person can do the job or to know what they have to do to accommodate them.

What kinds of accommodations will an employer make for someone who has a disability?

Examples of accommodations you could expect an employer to make include giving the person more time to complete tasks, giving them flexible hours or letting them have time off if they need to go to the hospital.

Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities and services provided by state and local governments.

Someone with a disability can use government services and programs just like anyone else. For example, a state cannot refuse to grant you a driver's license merely because of your psychiatric diagnosis, unless you are somehow unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. Any state and local buildings have to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it illegal for anyone with a disability to be discriminated against in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodations by any person who owns or operates a place of public accommodation.

This means that you are entitled to receive the same service as anyone else in restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores or museums, for example. No one can tell you that you are not allowed to use their facilities because you have a mental illness.

Title IV of the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that those with hearing and speech impairments have access to telephone and television services.

This includes the establishment of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) and also closed captioning for federally funded public service announcements and other television programs.

Title V of the Americans With Disabilities Act defines the law's relationship to other laws, the development of technical assistance materials, coverage of congressional agencies and prohibits state immunity from remedies.

This section also specifies certain mental disorders which are not included in the Americans With Disabilities Act such as transvestism or other sexual disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania or pyromania, or substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs. You can read more about the American With Disabilities Act on the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's (NAMI) website.