Unfortunately, stigma surrounding epilepsy continues to fuel discrimination. People with epilepsy can feel isolated from the mainstream of society and may encounter barriers in many areas of life including education, employment, access to care, transportation and community engagement. The Epilepsy Foundation has a comprehensive resource list to help individuals understand their legal rights. Click here to visit their webpage. Or, see the topics below to learn more.
One major civil rights law that every person living with epilepsy should understand is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Americans with Disabilities Act is important for individuals with epilepsy because it protects them from discrimination based on their epilepsy. Another important point to recognize about the ADA is that its protection does not end in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers individuals with epilepsy in a variety of environments including restaurants, hotels, schools, correctional institutions, and public transportation. (Learn more)
Although epilepsy and its effects are becoming more recognized in society, there is still a very real possibility that an individual with epilepsy, specifically one who experiences complex partial seizures, will come across someone who does not completely understand the disorder. To some, a complex partial seizure may be misinterpreted as stemming from intoxication, mental illness, or aggression. This misinterpretation can result in unjust arrest and prosecution based on a perceived threat or crime – all because of involuntary actions produced by seizures. Should this ever occur, it is important to understand how one can protect and defend themselves against accusations of criminal conduct. It will be beneficial to contact any witnesses who can attest to the exact behavior displayed during the seizure, as well as any closed-circuit video footage of the seizure that may exist. It will also be important to be in contact with a professional who is familiar with the individual and their seizures to defend against any criminal charges. Please visit the Jeanne A. Carpenter Epilepsy Legal Defense Fund website for more information on responding to epilepsy-related criminal charges. (Learn more)
Individuals with epilepsy should also be aware of their rights regarding child custody and family law. A parent’s epilepsy may be a factor in the determination of custody, but only so far as it directly affects the best interests of the child. It is important that generalized decisions not be made solely because a person has epilepsy. While violent or hazardous behavior does not often occur during a seizure, it will be important for an individual with epilepsy fighting for child custody to be prepared to counter this argument. Courts may assume harm based upon a misunderstanding and unfounded fear of epilepsy. Expert testimony on all these issues is essential at a custody hearing, especially where it is anticipated that misinformation about epilepsy may be presented. Counsel for the parent with epilepsy should also be prepared to produce evidence about epilepsy itself in order to ensure that the trier of fact understands basic facts about the condition and its manifestations. (Learn more)
For persons with epilepsy, it is important to note that housing discrimination is also a possibility. The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination based on disability and provide people with certain rights in obtaining housing and remedies against discrimination. People with epilepsy should be covered by Section 504 even if seizures are well controlled. The FHA applies to most landlords of privately owned and publicly funded buildings, as well as real estate service providers, such as mortgage lenders and insurance agents. If an individual is facing eviction and believes it to be due to their seizure-related behaviors, there are several strategies that may prove helpful. Preparing a letter asking the landlord to cease eviction proceedings and to consider providing a reasonable accommodation, explaining to the landlord that epilepsy is the reason for noncompliance with the lease provisions, and being prepared to show evidence that one’s epileptic behavior is not a direct threat to other tenants could be constructive. One might also want to think of ways to show that an accommodation will allow for compliance with the lease or consider wearing medical alert jewelry if aggressive postictal behavior is common. If you believe your rights under federal law have been violated, you can file a housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you file an FHA claim, you must file the complaint within one year of the discriminatory event. If you file a Section 504 complaint, you must file the complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory event. Please contact 1-800-669-9777 or visit the Housing and Urban Development Online Complaint form for more information on filing a housing discrimination complaint.