Hypersensitivity to WiFi… Could it Be a Disability?

WiFi Image 09_10

Sure, WiFi is everywhere – but can it be harmful to your health?

Courts and other government bodies are grappling with precisely that question. The answer is very important for employers who must make “reasonable accommodations,” and public entities that are required to make “reasonable modifications,” for people with recognized disabilities.

The phenomenon is called “electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome,” or EHS. Symptoms vary, but they most commonly include fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, dizziness, nausea, burning sensations and rashes – all allegedly brought on by exposure to electromagnetic fields.  The fields are all around us  – not just from wireless Internet networks, but also from high voltage power lines, radio and television broadcasting stations, mobile devices, video display units, microwaves, automated highway toll systems and even fluorescent lights.

The federal Americans With Disabilities Act defines a “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including: caring for oneself, sleeping, learning and concentrating.  As some people see it, the symptoms of EHS, if proven valid, could substantially limit some of these activities.

If courts do begin to recognize EHS as an ADA disability, the big question will be whether affected people can be reasonably accommodated, especially in a world full of WiFi and the ever-growing Internet of Things.

On Sept. 1, a federal district court in Florida refused to dismiss an ADA claim based on allegations that an individual experienced insomnia, loud and violent ear ringing and difficulty concentrating as a result of the attachment of a digital meter to his home.

The court said that because these symptoms substantially limited major life activities and derived from “some sort of physical or mental impairment,” it could reasonably infer that the plaintiff has a disability. 

In Massachusetts, the parents of a 12-year-old child filed a complaint in federal district court, alleging that a private school failed to reasonably accommodate their child’s EHS “disability” by not making changes to its allegedly high-density WiFi system. The parents argued that the system caused their child to suffer headaches, dizziness, chest pains, itchy skin and rashes during school hours.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the symptoms of EHS are real and can be debilitating. But the WHO also says EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, and that these symptoms may actually be just “stress reactions as a result of worrying about EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself.”

It’s too soon to say what these two courts will ultimately decide, but we’ll watch these cases and keep you posted on developments.