Activists push those with HIV, AIDS to know their ADA rights

CHICAGO (WLS) -- They are topics that most people don't easily connect: HIV/AIDS and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But some activists are working to ensure that people living with the condition know their rights in hopes of eliminating discrimination.

Internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist Fred Hersch captivated the crowd recently at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The eight-time Grammy nominee also engrossed an audience at the Center on Halsted.

Hersch has been living with HIV for the past 30 years. He is passionate about educating the LGBT community and others about the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

"About eight years ago, I was in a two-month coma as a result of pneumonia unrelated to my HIV condition - and for the first time in my life, even though I had had health challenges, I had never been disabled before," Hersch said.

ADA 25 Chicago Executive Director Emily Harris says it is as important for people managing illnesses to know their legal rights. It is equally important for employers and others serving the public to know how not to discriminate.

"Anything that is a chronic illness that affects activities of daily living that you may need some accommodation at work or in order to be served at a public place is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act," Harris said. "So people who are cancer survivors, for example, are protected if they should need some accommodation at work."

Former AIDS Foundation President Mark Ishaug notes there is still much work to be done.

"With laws like the ADA and with organizations like ADA 25, we can change hearts. We can change minds. We can change laws. We can change the workplace," Ishaug said.

One of the first cases in this area that was tested under the ADA involved a dentist who refused to serve a patient with HIV. The ADA says that everyone has to have equal access.

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