Definition of disability expanded under amendment to ADA

People with impairments who previously were not protected and not offered a reasonable accommodation in their workplace may find that they meet the new definition under an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act. New regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which executes the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act will expand the definition of disability.

Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act in response to what they saw as an exceedingly restricted definition of disability in the context of workplace accommodations. People with impairments such as diabetes, epilepsy, serious depression, bipolar disorder and multiple sclerosis did not meet the old definition of disability and were not able to bring claims under the ADA.

Just as unfortunately, people with impairments who did not meet the old ADA definition of disability experienced forms of discrimination based on their impairment. The employees were not able to form a case under the ADA because the employer successfully argued the employees’ impairment did not meet the definition and therefore no discrimination took place. More disturbing, if the employee was able to show the impairment met the definition of disability, it also likely meant the impairment was so severe as to prevent the employee from completing their job.

Under the new form of the ADA, the definition of disability has largely remained untouched but the interpretation of the definition has been expanded. Generally, disability means any physical or mental impairment that substantially impedes one or more major life activities. The new regulations add new activities to the list of major life activities like walking, standing, sitting, eating and sleeping as well as major bodily functions like respiratory and digestive functions.

Source: PCWorld, “The ADA soon will cover more disabled,” Karen M. Kroll, 4/16/11


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