The ADAAA went into effect on January 1, 2009. It overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes or epilepsy.
The act states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals (see EEOC Proposes ADA Amendments Act Changes). The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.
The ADAAA and the final regulations keep the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability. But the law made significant changes in how those terms are interpreted, and the regulations implement those changes.
Based on the statutory requirements, the regulations set forth a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability. For example, the principles provide that an impairment need not prevent or severely or significantly restrict performance of a major life activity to be considered a disability. Additionally, whether an impairment is a disability should be construed broadly, to the maximum extent allowable under the law. The principles also provide that, with one exception (ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), “mitigating measures,” such as medication and assistive devices like hearing aids, must not be considered when determining whether someone has a disability. Furthermore, impairments that are episodic (such as epilepsy) or in remission (such as cancer) are disabilities if they would be substantially limiting when active.
The regulations clarify that the term “major life activities” includes “major bodily functions,” such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and brain, neurological, and endocrine functions. The regulations also make clear that, as under the old ADA, not every impairment will constitute a disability. The regulations include examples of impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities, such as HIV infection, diabetes, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder.
Following the dictates of the ADAAA, the regulations also make it easier for individuals to establish coverage under the “regarded as” part of the definition of “disability.” Establishing such coverage used to pose significant hurdles, but under the new law, the focus is on how the person was treated rather than on what an employer believes about the nature of the person’s impairment.The commission has released two Question-and-Answer documents about the regulations to aid the public and employers – including small business – in understanding the law and new regulations. The ADAAA regulations, accompanying Question and Answer documents and a fact sheet are available at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adaaa_info.cfm.