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This is based on a recent question that was asked on The Workplace but was not well-received there.

US federal law provides for robust protections from discrimination for many different reasons - race, gender, religion, presence of a disability, etc.

Is being left-handed a protected class in the USA? Most people (IME) would not classify it as a disability per se, but left-handed people do sometimes encounter problems with tools that were designed for right-handed users and may need accommodations such as re configuring of workplace equipment or the provisioning of left-handed models of common tools such as scissors, so it stands to reason that some discrimination could be present, such as an employer wishing to hire only right-handed people in order to avoid the expense of purchasing equipment designed for left-handed people.

So,

  • Being left-handed isn't a race (people of all races can be right or left-handed).
  • Being left-handed isn't a gender (people of all genders can be right or left-handed).
  • Being left-handed isn't a religion.
  • Being left-handed might (?) be a disability.

I'm primarily interested in US federal law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but am open to answers that cover state law if there is a state that has explicit provisions that southpaws are or are not protected from discrimination.

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  • 3
    "An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment." I don't see how having a dominant hand that is different from the majority's qualifies as a disability.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 21 at 16:26
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    Being left-handed seems like as much of a disability as gender or being a different height (which it to say: it isn't one at all). People of different genders or particularly tall or short people might also need provisions made for them.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 22 at 0:28
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    Where it might be legally relevant is not on people who are just more proficient with the left hand than the right - that's very common but doesn't really prevent anyone from doing anything. But people who cannot use their right hand at all, say, due to injury (up to and including total loss of the hand or arm), or birth deformities, severe arthritis, etc. could probably legitimately claim disability discrimination. Sep 22 at 13:46
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    @Darrel Hoffman People who have lost a hand, or the use of the hand due to injury or disease definitely have a disability under the ADA, and I found official examples saying so. But that is not what "left-handed" normally means, and that is not what the question asked about. Sep 22 at 15:18
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In the US, it seems not

It appears that left-handedness is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

The "ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual" reads in relevant part:

Simple physical characteristics such as the color of one's eyes, hair, or skin; baldness; left-handedness; or age do not constitute physical impairments. Similarly, disadvantages attributable to environmental, cultural, or economic factors are not the type of impairments covered by title III. Moreover, the definition does not include common personality traits such as poor judgment or a quick temper, where these are not symptoms of a mental or psychological disorder.

This is the most direct statement on the ADA and left-handedness I have been able to find.

The actual implementing regulations and the statutory language are not so clear. I have not found any case in which a claim was made under the ADA which cited left-handedness as a disability udner the ADA, either the original act or as amended.

Section § 36.105 of the ADA regulations defines disability. It reads, in relevant part:

(a)

(a) (1) Disability means, with respect to an individual:
(a) (1) (i) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(a) (1) (ii) A record of such an impairment; or
(a) (1) (iii) Being regarded as having such an impairment as described in paragraph (f) of this section.
(a)(2) Rules of construction. (a)(2) (i) The definition of “disability” shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.

...

(b)

(b)(1) Physical or mental impairment means:
(b)(1)(i) Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin, and endocrine; or
(b)(1)(ii) Any mental or psychological disorder such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disability.
(b)(2) Physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions such as the following: orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, intellectual disability, emotional illness, dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
(b)(3) Physical or mental impairment does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.

(c)

(c)(1) Major life activities include, but are not limited to:
(c)(1)(i) Caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, writing, communicating, interacting with others, and working; and
(c)(1)(ii) The operation of a major bodily function, such as the functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive systems. The operation of a major bodily function includes the operation of an individual organ within a body system.
(c)(2) Rules of construction.
(c)(2)(i) In determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, the term major shall not be interpreted strictly to create a demanding standard.
(c)(2)(ii) Whether an activity is a major life activity is not determined by reference to whether it is of central importance to daily life.

(d) Substantially limits.
(d)(1) Rules of construction. The following rules of construction apply when determining whether an impairment substantially limits an individual in a major life activity.
(d)(1)(i) The term “substantially limits” shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA. “Substantially limits” is not meant to be a demanding standard.
(d)(1)(ii) The primary object of attention in cases brought under title III of the ADA should be whether public accommodations have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not the extent to which an individual’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Accordingly, the threshold issue of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity should not demand extensive analysis.
(d)(1)(iii) An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity does not need to limit other major life activities in order to be considered a substantially limiting impairment. (d)(1)(iv) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
(d)(1)(v) An impairment is a disability within the meaning of this part if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. An impairment does not need to prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity in order to be considered substantially limiting. Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability within the meaning of this section.
(d)(1)(vi) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment. However, in making this assessment, the term “substantially limits” shall be interpreted and applied to require a degree of functional limitation that is lower than the standard for substantially limits applied prior to the ADA Amendments Act.
(d)(1)(vii) The comparison of an individual’s performance of a major life activity to the performance of the same major life activity by most people in the general population usually will not require scientific, medical, or statistical evidence. Nothing in this paragraph (d)(1) is intended, however, to prohibit or limit the presentation of scientific, medical, or statistical evidence in making such a comparison where appropriate.
...
(d)(3) Condition, manner, or duration.
(d)(3)(i) At all times taking into account the principles set forth in the rules of construction, in determining whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity, it may be useful in appropriate cases to consider, as compared to most people in the general population, the conditions under which the individual performs the major life activity; the manner in which the individual performs the major life activity; or the duration of time it takes the individual to perform the major life activity, or for which the individual can perform the major life activity.
(d)(3)(ii) Consideration of facts such as condition, manner, or duration may include, among other things, consideration of the difficulty, effort or time required to perform a major life activity; pain experienced when performing a major life activity; the length of time a major life activity can be performed; or the way an impairment affects the operation of a major bodily function. In addition, the non-ameliorative effects of mitigating measures, such as negative side effects of medication or burdens associated with following a particular treatment regimen, may be considered when determining whether an individual’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
(d)(3)(iii) In determining whether an individual has a disability under the “actual disability” or “record of” prongs of the definition of “disability,” the focus is on how a major life activity is substantially limited, and not on what outcomes an individual can achieve.

Also relevant is "Regulations To Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as Amended" which describes in detail the rule-making process leading to the amended regulations.

In "Case of the Big Bus Driver" an article on an ADA employment case, it is said that:

It is important to distinguish between conditions that are impairments and physical, psychological, environmental, cultural, and economic characteristics that are not impairments. The definition of the term “impairment” does not include physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, left-handedness, or height, weight, or muscle tone that are within “normal” range and are not the result of a physiological disorder.

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9

Is being left-handed a protected class in [...] discrimination law?

No

The definition of disability may be found at s.6(1) of the Equality Act 2010:

A person (P) has a disability if—

  • (a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and

  • (b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

As a left-hander myself I have yet to come across scissors, fountain pens or a tin opener that causes substantial and long-term adverse effects on my normal day-to-day activities. Annoying? Yes. Long term? No.

And don't forget that not all discrimination is unlawful.

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  • Most fountain pens I've seen are basically symmetrical, not sure how that would be any different for lefties? Other than writing in general being different since we generally write left-to-right (unless it's e.g. Arabic or Hebrew), and lefties have to use a different grip so their hand doesn't cover or smudge the text, but that would be true of all writing implements, not just fountain pens. Sep 22 at 13:53
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    @Darrel Hoffman I cannot speak for others but I use what I deem to be a traditional grip (ie not the wrist-bending claw) so I push, rather than pull, a pen when writing L-R which makes a fountain pen nib stick in the paper causing it to stutter and splutter if I'm not careful.
    – Rock Ape
    Sep 22 at 14:06
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    Not to mention getting lots of ink stains on your wrist or shirt cuff.
    – Barmar
    Sep 22 at 14:23
  • 4
    @DarrelHoffman: Writing implements that are fully rotationally symmetric don't have any particular handedness, but a standard fountain pen or typical chisel-point writing implement will favor strokes that pull toward the elbow, on whichever side that happens to be.
    – supercat
    Sep 22 at 14:44

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