The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a definition of what disability is. It is not a list of “officially” recognized disabilities. That is a very important distinction.
Congress has been adamant that the ADA rules are to be interpreted broadly and that its priority is ending discrimination against the disabled. In 2008, Congress revised the ADA, further explaining and expanding it to stop court decisions that were restricting ADA’s application. Then in 2016, Congress further revised ADA and broadened its coverage. The ADA is one of the best and most inspiring pieces of legislation that Congress has enacted.
Below are excerpts from the 2008 and 2016 revisions with the federal definition of disability. Knowing this definition can help a person who is seeking reasonable accommodation for access and services as well as describing to their health professionals about the limitations they are experiencing.
Americans With Disabilities Act Of 1990, As Amended 2008
Sec. 12102. Definition of disability
As used in this chapter:
(1) Disability. The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).
(2) Major Life Activities
(A) In general. For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
(B) Major bodily functions. For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Americans With Disabilities Act new rules, effective 10-11-16
§ 35.108 Definition of “disability.”
(a)(1) Disability means, with respect to an individual:
(i) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(ii) A record of such an impairment; or
(iii) Being regarded as having such an impairment as described in paragraph (f) of this section.
(2) Rules of construction. (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)(1) Physical or mental impairment means:
(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
(ii) Any mental or psychological disorder such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disability.
(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, and 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.
(c)(1) Major life activities include, but are not limited to:
(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
(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.
(2) Rules of construction. (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.
(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—(1) Rules of construction. The following rules of construction apply when determining whether an impairment substantially limits an individual in a major life activity.
(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.
(ii) The primary object of attention in cases brought under title II of the ADA should be whether public entities 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.
(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.
(iv) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(viii) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures. However, the ameliorative effects of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses are lenses that are intended to fully correct visual acuity or to eliminate refractive error.