The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments - Congress Broadens the Scope of the ADA

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The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"), Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553 (200), which amends the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), was signed by the President on September 25, 2008. The changes brought about by the ADAAA are likely to increase significantly the number of requests for accommodation and the number of claims of disability discrimination.

The number of individuals covered by the ADA is likely to increase significantly. Individuals with epilepsy, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and certain mental disabilities, who were previously thought to be outside the protection of the ADA, may now be covered and may request accommodation or file charges under the ADAAA. 

The ADAAA retains the ADA's definition of "disability," but it amends the ADA to further define and clarify three critical terms within the existing definition—"substantially limits," "major life activities," and "regarded as"—and adds several standards that must be applied when considering the definition of "disability." The ADAAA rejects both Supreme Court precedent holding that the terms "substantially" and "major" in the definition of disability must be strictly interpreted to create a demanding standard for qualifying as disabled, as well as the Court's interpretation that "substantially limits" means "prevents or severely restricts."

The ADAAA also introduces some new measures. Among them is the adoption of a nonexhaustive list of "major life activities," including caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. It also expands the category of major life activities to include the operation of major bodily functions. It removes from the "regarded as" prong of the disability definition the requirement that an individual must demonstrate that he or she has, or is perceived to have, an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Instead, individuals may now establish that they are "regarded as" disabled by showing that they have been subjected to adverse action under the ADA because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment. The new ADAAA also prohibits consideration of mitigating measures, such as medication, assistive technology, accommodations, or modifications, when determining whether an impairment constitutes a disability. Thus, for example, even if an individual's condition is controlled by medication, that individual may still be considered to have a disability within the meaning of the ADAAA.

The foregoing represents only an overview of the changes brought about by the ADAAA. John F. Buckley, head of National Legal Research Groups Human Resources Division, and the attorneys of the National Legal Research Group have prepared a White Paper analyzing in detail the important changes brought about by the ADAAA. John F. Buckley is the author of a number of books on Employment Law, including The State by State Guide to Human Resources Law (Wolters Kluwer). The cost of this White Paper is $50.