The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the main articles of legislation that provides civil protections for persons with disabilities. In particular, the ADA regulates equal employment opportunity, transportation, public accommodation, and housing for disabled persons.

In 2011, Amendments to the ADA were approved under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The amendments relaxed many of the requirements of what was required to qualify as a "disability." In effect, the amendments make it easier for a person to file a federal disability claim. 

How Is "Disability" Defined under the ADAAA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act greatly expands the definition of disability under federal law, and removes many of the hurdles claimants previously encountered. Specifically, the ADAAA makes the following changes to the definition of “disability”:

  • Substantially limiting effect: Under the previous definition, a disability claimant had to prove that the disability resulted in a “substantially limiting effect” on their major life activities, such as sleeping or walking. Substantial limiting effect was construed very narrowly, and essentially meant the disability had to prevent or severely restrict the major life activity. Now, the impairment does not necessarily have to prevent or severely restrict a major life activities to be classified as a disability. Nonetheless, not every impairment will qualify.
  • Major life activities: The new amendments require this phrase to also cover “major bodily functions.” A major bodily function is a broad category, and can include anything from immune system functioning and cell growth to endocrine and neurological functions.
  • Mitigating measures: Previously, mitigating measures, such as medication or the use of other medical devices, could be considered when reviewing a disability claim. Under the new amendments, “mitigating measures” may no longer be considered. However, eyeglasses and contact lenses may still factored into an analysis.
  • Recurring or episodic impairments: A recurring or episodic disability, such as epilepsy, are now protected by the ADA. However, they must still substantially limit a major life activity during the periods that impairment is active. Episodic impairments may also include disabilities that are dormant or in remission, such as cancer.
  • Regarded as disabled: Previously, a non-diagnosed claimant could file for disability if they had been “regarded as disabled." According to the new amendments, the focus is shifted from the type of impairment to an analysis of how the person was actually treated.
  • Obvious Impairment: The old definition of impairment did not provide an exhaustive list of impairments, due to the difficulty of creating a complete listing. The new ADAAA is by no means exhaustive, but does list specific examples of conditions that would obviously be considered a disability or impairment.  Some obvious impairments include epilepsy, HIV infection, bipolar disorders, and diabetes.

Thus, the new amendments to the ADA make it significantly easier for a claimant to establish that they have a disability according to the federal definition. Moreover, in an effort to provide as much protection as possible, courts have been directed to interpret the new guidelines broadly.   

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act Cover All Impairments?

The new ADAAA guidelines make it clear that not all impairments will be classified as a disability. Even with the new expansions to the definition of disability, conditions that are questionable or are not immediately debilitating will still be subject a rigorous analysis. 

In addition, claims that are subject to fraud or deceit will be rejected.  Filing a false disability claim may result in civil or criminal penalties.  For example, if a person provides false medical documents in order to receive disability protections, their claim will be denied.  The person may also have to face legal consequences such as a fine or a possible jail sentence.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you will be filing a disability claim, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the new amendments contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Prior to filing, you should certainly consult with an attorney for advice. An employment lawyer will be able to assist you with compiling the necessary documents for filing.  Additionally, if a dispute arises over your claim, your attorney will be able to provide assistance during mandatory hearings.