Is narcolepsy a disability?

The legal classification of narcolepsy as a disability varies from country to country, but in the United States there are specific laws that protect people who are narcoleptics. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act require employers to accommodate narcoleptics. Narcoleptic individuals may also obtain financial assistance through social security disability insurance or the supplemental security income program. Despite the legal recognition of this condition as a potential disability, the extent to which an individual is actually disabled by their narcolepsy depends on many factors.

Narcolepsy is not a mental illness, but rather a disorder of the nervous system that causes extreme daytime sleepiness every three to four hours. These periods of sleepiness can interfere with many routine activities. People with severe symptoms may not be able to work, drive a car, or go to school.

It is rare for a narcoleptic to suddenly fall asleep during the day despite the fact that this is how the media portrays the disorder. Most attacks last less than 15 minutes. Many narcoleptics lead productive lives thanks in part to treatments such as medications and lifestyle changes that control symptoms. Ultimately, only the person with narcolepsy can determine how disabling her condition is, if at all.

Regardless of whether an employer considers narcolepsy a disability, the ADA protects narcoleptics from discrimination. As long as a person with narcolepsy can perform the essential duties of their job, an employer cannot treat them differently because of the condition.

The Family and Medical Leave Act also provides accommodations for narcoleptics working for employers with more than 50 employees. This law requires such employers to allow an employee with a condition such as narcolepsy to take unpaid leave. If necessary, a family member may also be granted unpaid leave to care for a close relative who is narcoleptic.

For social security purposes, narcolepsy can be considered a disability. For people with severe symptoms, narcolepsy can prevent them from working. In such cases, narcoleptics may qualify for social security disability benefits. An experienced narcolepsy attorney can best help an applicant obtain these benefits.

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