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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 ADA Regulations, Part 2

ADA Regulations, Part 2

The first article on these amendments dealt with the history of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and the new definition of “substantially limited.” This article deals with how the amendments have changed the definitions of “disability” by changing the meaning of the terms “impairment” and “major life activity.”

One of the most important changes affected by the ADAAA is to increase the applicability of the definition of “disability.” Congress broadened the definition of disability because it believed that Supreme Court decisions interpreting the ADA left too many Americans outside the ADA’s protection, including individuals suffering from cancer, epilepsy and diabetes. The Amendments Act dictates that “disability” should be interpreted in favor of broad applicability.

As discussed in the previous article, the Amendments Act keeps intact the ADA’s three-pronged definition of disability which includes: 1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2) a record of such an impairment; or 3) being regarded as having such an impairment. The ADAAA’s definition of “physical or mental impairment” now specifically includes the immune and circulatory systems among those that can be subject to an impairment covered by the Act. The ADAAA also points out that its list of body systems, like its list of mental impairments, is not all-inclusive. The appendix to the Amendments Act also specifies that although pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, pregnancy-related impairments can be considered disabilities if they substantially limit a major life activity.

Impairments that are episodic or in remission are also specifically covered by the provisions of the ADAAA. As long as an impairment would substantially affect a major life activity when active, it meets the Act’s definition of disability. This includes such conditions as epilepsy, hypertension, asthma, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Cancer in remission can also qualify as a disability under the Act. An impairment need not last any particular length of time to be considered a disability. If the complainant has a medical condition that is not transitory and minor, i.e., an impairment that has an actual or expected duration of six months or more, you don’t need to consider if the impairment substantially limits a major life activity. The emphasis will be on whether complainant can prove a discriminatory act and not whether the complainant is an individual with a disability.

The ADAAA also makes an important change to the definition of “major life activities.” The Supreme Court, in Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), had interpreted “major life activities” to include only those activities which are of “central importance to most people’s daily lives.” The ADAAA specifically rejects that standard, and states that the term “major” should not be interpreted to create a high standard for qualifying for the Act’s protection. This change impacts whether activities such as “lifting” and “performing manual tasks” will now be considered disabilities.

The ADAAA has also moved the instructions on how to determine if an individual is substantially limited in the major life activity of working to the appendix. An individual may be found to be substantially limited in the major life activity of working only if he or she has difficulty performing a “class or broad range of jobs in various classes.” Limitations in performing a specific job do not show that a person is substantially limited in working. This continued restriction allows agencies to avoid liability for emotional illnesses caused by responsible management officials who discriminate while penalizing employees who become ill due to the hostile work environment.