ADA Anniversary and Updates

The ADA, which defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” was enacted to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In January of 2009, the 2008 ADA Amendments Act was signed into law, and delineated with greater specificity what could be considered a disability by expanding upon the definition of ‘major life activities’ and prohibiting the consideration of mitigating factors such as medication in the determination of disability. Since the ADA includes provisions on employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications, among others, the implications are far-reaching, and impact everything from education and healthcare to housing and parks.

To learn more about the ADA and its impact on individuals with disabilities, please visit the ADA website or go to the ADA National Network website

ADA 20th Anniversary Video

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2008 Amendments to the ADA

On January 1, 2009, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 when into effect. This Act amended the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and included a conforming amendment to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that affects the definition of the term “disability.”

  • Primarily, the changes adopted a broader standard of determining whether or not an individual has a disability. Congress decided to make these changes in response to concerns caused by certain Supreme Court decisions (i.e., Sutton v. United Airlines [1999], Toyota v. Williams [2002]) that had previously narrowed the definition.
  • Though the newer broad standard is not directly defined, it does make clear that, except for the use of corrective lenses, the use of mitigating measures and the improvements they cause for the individual cannot be used in determining whether or not an individual has a disability. That is to say, a student who uses physical aids, or is medicated for an applicable condition, may still be considered to have a disability, and therefore protected by the ADA, even though the disability is now “controlled” to some extent.
  • The Act now clarifies that for a condition that is in remission, or episodic in nature, the disability determination will be made based on the condition when active (i.e., if it would limit a major life activity if/when active, not simply if it currently does).
  • The Amendment also restores the original definition of “substantially limited” – that the impairment simply be a substantial limitation rather than a “significant” or “severe” restriction.
  • The definition of “major life activity” has also been expanded to include learning, reading, speaking, concentrating, thinking, and communication. This change will extend protection to individuals with more common but problematic disabilities such as insomnia, dyslexia, stuttering and attention deficit disorder.
  • The Amendment stipulates that limitations on major life activities must be interpreted broadly, and limitations in one major life activity need not impact other major life activities in order to be protected. For example, someone with ADHD who has problems with concentration, does not need to have that concentration affect their school performance in order to be extended protection under the ADA.
  • Finally, the Act changes the definition of major bodily functions to include neurological and brain functions. This is important for individuals with certain neurological and brain function disorders such as ADD/ADHD, because learning disabilities are now much more easily protected.