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About Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia, or sickle cell disease, is a genetically inherited blood disorder that affects the shape of red blood cells. Red blood cells are normally round, smooth, and soft, which allows them to move easily through the blood system. In sickle cell disease, blood cells are crescent, or sickle-shaped, and rigid. This is due to blood cells that contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin. The abnormal shape of red blood cells prevents the cells from properly moving through blood vessels and carrying oxygen to all parts of the body. The sickle-shaped blood cells die sooner than ordinary blood cells, which results in significantly fewer red blood cells and causes anemia.
People with sickle cell disease experience chronic anemia and periodic episodes of pain, sometimes referred to as “crisis.” When the sickle-shaped blood cells block the flow of blood and oxygen to the limbs and organs of the body, severe pain and damage to tissues and organs can result. People can experience pain episodes affecting the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen; damage to the lungs, spleen, kidneys, and liver, among other organs; have a stroke; and develop acute chest syndrome and bacterial infections. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe.
Sickle cell disease is a lifelong, chronic condition, and its symptoms can be treated, but for most people there is no cure. People with sickle cell disease often require prophylactic antibiotics, folic acid supplementation, pain management, intravenous fluids, and frequent blood transfusions. Blood transfusions reduce recurrent pain crises, the risk of stroke, and other complications.
Sickle Cell Anemia and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Sickle Cell Anemia
People with sickle cell anemia may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who are aging will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
An applicant for a data entry position has sickle cell anemia and discloses that it causes her to have episodes of considerable pain.
The employer agrees to make adjustments to her schedule to allow for flexibility when needed as well as provide some intermittent leave time for more extreme episodes should the individual be hired for the position.
An applicant has compromised immune system function due to their diagnosis of sickle cell anemia.
The applicant is applying to work in a position that requires a great deal of communication with co-workers, which is normally done in person. The employer agrees to provide the individual with protective masks and sanitization products when in-person communication is required, while also allowing the individual to communicate with their co-workers electronically when possible to further reduce exposure if they are hired as an accommodation.
An applicant lets his prospective employer know that he has sickle cell anemia and because of this he experiences blurred vision.
The applicant states that because of this he has trouble reading and the job involves a large amount of reading information on a computer screen. The employer agrees to provide the individual with screen reading software and a headset as an accommodation if he is hired for the position.
An employee with sickle cell anemia has been having problems with typing duties due to his hands swelling.
The employer provides the individual with a speech recognition software and a head controlled input device as accommodations to allow him to use his computer in a manner that does not require him to physically use a keyboard or mouse.
An employee with sickle cell anemia has disclosed that they are experiencing limitations due to chronic fatigue.
The individual has noticed that the quality of her work suffers near the end of their shift and is requesting accommodations to help with this. The employer agrees to modify the individual’s schedule so that she has a 1-2 hour break in the middle of the shift as an accommodation so that the individual can rest before resuming the work shift. To accomplish this, the employer extends the individual’s shift end-time so the individual works a normal amount of hours despite this long break.