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5 Questions About Getting an Education While Living With HIV

May 17, 2016

Credit: ihorzigor for iStock via Thinkstock

Credit: ihorzigor for iStock via Thinkstock

Table of Contents

I have been thinking about going back to school, but I am worried that HIV will somehow get in the way. Should I do it?

Yes, absolutely! Living with HIV does not have to get in the way of your dream -- and your right -- to get an education. Many bloggers and community members have written about their experiences returning to school or training for a career change.

You are definitely not alone!


I want to go to trade school and be licensed as a barber, massage therapist or home health care assistant. Can I be discriminated against by a school or licensing agency as a person living with HIV?

No. People living with HIV are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA forbids discrimination against people with disabilities, including HIV, by agencies or programs of state or local governments. Public trade schools and state licensing agencies for occupations such as barbering, cosmetology or home health assistance count as these kinds of programs.

Private trade schools are considered places of public accommodation, and the ADA prohibits public accommodations from denying access to their goods, services or facilities based on disability status. (Unfortunately, private clubs and venues run by religious organizations are not considered places of public accommodation.)

In brief, neither a public nor a private entity can deny you an occupational license or trade school admission because of your HIV status.

Can I be excluded from my training program or licensing because of my HIV status?

In virtually all cases, no. People with disabilities may not be excluded from private or public accommodations due to a health concern unless they pose a significant health or safety risk -- or a "direct threat" -- that can't be reduced or eliminated by changes to policy or practice.

Furthermore, the threat has to be real and based on medical evidence, not stereotypes or stigma.

There is no direct threat of HIV transmission during the activities required to train or work in the grooming, massage or home health fields. Excluding a person from these activities because they are living with HIV violates the ADA.

Back in 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) got wind of the fact that some trade schools and licensing agencies of these kinds were discriminating against people living with HIV anyway. That's illegal -- and the DOJ sent a letter to every single attorney general in all 50 states and all U.S. territories, telling them so and enlisting their help to ensure that no schools or licensing bodies in their jurisdictions were engaging in this illegal exclusion.

My application for trade school or licensing says that I need a doctor's note proving I don't have a disease that is "infectious, communicable or contagious." Does that include HIV?

It should not. It is not possible to acquire HIV through the kind of casual contact people engage in while doing their work in careers such as home health care assistance, hair styling or massage therapy. Therefore, when schools or licensing agencies use these terms, they must exclude HIV and other conditions that cannot be transmitted in these ways. If a licensing board or training school does not recognize HIV as an exception to these rules, they are not doing what they ought to be according to the ADA.

For more information: Questions and Answers: The ADA and the Rights of Persons With HIV/AIDS to Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing.

How will I pay for my education?

There is rarely an easy answer to this question. A very low percentage of people living with HIV have access to the kind of money it can take to pay for a higher education or training program all on their own. But there are ways to get support with fees for school or training. Check with your local HIV service organization to see whether they know about any resources. You can also do your own research.

In addition to checking whether you and your school/program qualify for federal student aid (hint: there's no age limit!), you can look for scholarships in a number of places. The links below may provide helpful information right away; they may also serve as first steps in your individual research.

You can continue your research by searching for "HIV Scholarships" on Google.

Further, there are scholarships available to people based on a wide variety of traits and life experiences to make higher education more available to groups for whom such an endeavor may historically have been out of reach.

For more advice on financing your education, browse this article from business and affluent-lifestyle site on paying for your education as an adult student.

Olivia Ford is a contributing editor for and

Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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