If your eczema substantially limits one or more major life activities, then it may qualify as a disability. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the leading contributor to skin-related disability and has the highest disease burden among skin diseases as measured by disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs).
Professionals and students with eczema may be eligible for reasonable accommodations at their workplace or school. It's also possible for people with eczema to seek disability benefits, including VA benefits. Here’s what you need to know.
Workplace Accommodations for People with Eczema
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and ensures equal opportunities for employment, services, accommodations, transportation, and more. It defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” According to the ADA, a person who is disabled “has a history or record of such an impairment,” or “is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
For many people whose eczema meets these criteria, one of the “major life activities” most impacted is work. The National Eczema Association estimates nearly 5.9 million workdays are lost to eczema annually.
ADA protection makes it possible for people with eczema to request and obtain reasonable accommodation. It also protects them from discrimination in the workplace during recruitment, termination, job assignments, advancement, and compensation.
Take for example the story of an employee at an Agropur dairy processing plant in Michigan who asked if she could wear a different type of gloves when she realized the employer-provided gloves worsened her hand eczema. Because she was denied this reasonable accommodation, she wound up missing work, which led to her termination. She sued and, because of the laws laid out in the ADA, won an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) disability discrimination suit.
Rest assured that not all stories involving eczema accommodation in the workplace end in a lawsuit — many employers are happy to make their workplace more accommodating to employees with eczema. But if your eczema is impairing your ability to work, if you are facing discrimination because of your eczema, or if you are being denied reasonable accommodation for your eczema, know that you have rights.
Disability Benefits for People with Eczema
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits to people with disabilities. There are two programs you can receive disability benefits through–Social Security Disability Insurance, which provides assistance to people under 65 who’ve worked for a certain number of years and paid FICA Social Security taxes, and Supplemental Security Income, which provides assistance to children and adults who have qualifying disabilities and limited income. Both programs have the same medical requirements.
While “eczema” is not mentioned in the SSA Blue Book’s list of skin disorders eligible for disability benefits, it is covered under dermatitis. Types of eczema that are eligible for disability benefits include atopic dermatitis, dyshidrotic dermatitis, and allergic contact dermatitis, among others.
Your eligibility for SSA disability benefits depends on the severity of your eczema. In order to receive disability benefits, you’ll need to present evidence showing:
- Extensive skin lesions: For skin lesions to be considered extensive, they must either cover a zone of the body needed to function (such as the palms of your hands) or cover multiple areas of the body (like your elbows and face). In addition, you must prove that your eczema causes severe limitations. For instance, eczema on both soles of your feet might make it difficult to stand for several hours per day. Eczema on your hands could make it hard for you to perform desk work or assembly work.
Frequency of flare-ups: The SSA will evaluate how frequently your skin flares, how serious those flares are, and how long it takes for your skin to clear. They’ll also assess how well you do between flares and if you’re capable of working during those intervals.
Symptoms: The SSA will evaluate the severity of your symptoms, including any pain that they cause, in order to determine how they impact your daily life.
- Treatment: The SSA will evaluate the treatments you’ve tried and are currently on, how you’ve responded to them, and if those treatments have resulted in any side effects. In order to qualify for disability benefits, you will need to have undergone treatment for at least 3 months.
Disability Benefits for Veterans with Eczema
Eczema is generally a disqualifying condition for military service, but it is possible for people with mild or well-controlled eczema to obtain a medical waiver that allows them to serve. Harsh conditions are part of military service and can cause eczema to develop or flare. If you’re a veteran, you can seek VA benefits for eczema, but you’ll need to show that your eczema developed or worsened due to military service.
In order to qualify for VA benefits and establish that connection, veterans will need to submit VA Form 21-526EZ and include the following:
- An eczema diagnosis from their doctor
- Description of an in-service event that triggered their eczema
- A cause-and-effect link, also known as a nexus, that shows how the veteran’s eczema is connected to their service
The VA may use a rating system to gauge skin condition severity and determine how much compensation veterans are eligible for.
School Accommodations for Students with Eczema
Children and young adults with eczema face particular challenges at school. Itching and flare-ups can make it difficult to focus, and an estimated 20% of children with eczema are bullied by their peers.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that public schools provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities so that they can participate in the same educational activities as their peers.
When a student with eczema needs accommodations, a parent, teacher, staff member, or physician can submit a referral for 504 Plan. Like ADA, the laws outlined in Section 504 also offer protections from discrimination against students with disabilities. They are available for all school levels, including post-secondary education, and are developed on an individual basis by each school district.
Each 504 Plan outlines how the school will provide physical, environmental, and content accommodations for students with disabilities.
When you have eczema-prone skin, leveraging the accommodations and benefits available to you at your workplace or school is an important part of living with your condition.
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