ADA Amendments Act Summary

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act went into effect on January 1 of 2009. The main purpose of this act was to nullify previous court decisions that narrowed the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), broadening the definition to make it more in line with the original intent of Congress when the ADA was passed. Also, the intent of the Amendments Act was to encourage the courts, when presented with a disability discrimination case, to not focus on whether or not someone is legally disabled, but to focus on whether or not discrimination occurred.

The three-part definition of disability under the original ADA was unchanged:

Disability.–The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual:

1. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual,

2. A record of such an impairment,

3. Or being regarded as having such an impairment.

What were changed were the details – the definitions of terms within the overall definition.

For the first time, Congress gave examples for “major life activity.” 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
• Working

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
• Reproductive functions

Congress also changed the definition of “regarded as.” Individuals have “regarded as” protections when they have been discriminated against because of “an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.” They are protected against discrimination if their employer acted because of an actual impairment, or one he or she merely thought to exist. However, “regarded as” protection does not apply to impairments that are expected to last six months or less.

Congress also changed the definition of “substantially limits.”

Impairments that are episodic or in remission are still considered disabilities, even when they are not active.

Things that alleviate or reduce the effect of a disability, “mitigating measures”, must be disregarded when considering whether or not someone has a disability. Mitigating measures include:

• Medication
• Medical supplies, equipment, or appliances
• Low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses intended to fully correct visual acuity or eliminate refractive error)
• Prosthetics including limbs and devices
• Hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices
• Mobility devices
• Oxygen therapy equipment and supplies

Doug Schmidt
Act Team Coordinator
The Fifth Freedom Network

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