Disability Accommodations

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, amended in 2008, prohibits discrimination against an employee or applicant based on the person’s disability.  Under ADA, covered employers cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.  ADA also prohibits discrimination based on an employee or applicant’s relationship with a person with a disability, and protects against harassment and retaliation directed at a person because of his or her disability.  

ADA requires that an employer provide reasonable accommodation for a qualified employee or applicant (a person who can perform the essential job duties with or without reasonable accommodation) with a disability unless doing so would be too difficult or expensive based on the employer’s size, financial resources, and business needs.  Reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment that can help a person with a disability apply for or maintain employment.  Reasonable accommodation may include providing equipment or devices, modifying work schedules, or making existing facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities.

A person has a disability if he or she falls into one of the following three categories:  the person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; the person has a history of such an impairment; or the person is believed to have such an impairment that is neither transitory (a duration of less than six months) nor minor.  Examples of major life activities include walking, talking, seeing, hearing, learning, and the operation of major bodily functions.  To qualify as “substantially limiting,” an impairment need not rise to the level that it prevents or severely or significantly restricts a major life activity.  According to the EEOC regulations, the following impairments will almost always be found to substantially limit a major life activity and therefore qualify as a disability:  deafness, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, HIV infection, muscular dystrophy, and bipolar disorder. Some pregnant women may be covered under the ADA, as well. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What characteristics are not impairments and therefore do not qualify as disabilities?
Physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, height, weight, or muscle tone that fall within a “normal” range and are not caused by a physiological disorder do not count as impairments. A predisposition to illness or disease is also not an impairment.  

2. What types of bodily functions qualify as major life activities?
The operation of bodily functions that qualify as a major life activity include the  immune system, special sense organs and skin; normal cell growth; and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions. The operation of a major bodily function also encompasses the individual organs within each body system.

3. What kinds of past impairments qualify as disabilities?
Impairments in remission, such as cancer, or episodic diseases, such as asthma and epilepsy, which would, when active, substantially limit a major life activity, will likely qualify as disabilities.