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Disability Under the ADA

To qualify as disabled, you must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. You are also “disabled” if you you have a history of such a disability, or if your employer believes that you have such a disability (whether or not you actually do).

To be “substantially limiting”, your disability must significantly limit or restrict a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning or working. 

Most importantly, you are not covered by the law if you cannot perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodation.  This means that you must meet the employer’s minimum qualifications for the job (e.g., you have a license to drive) and you can do the job with or without some form of accommodation.

Changes Made By the ADAAA

Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), the Supreme Court restricted the meaning of the word disabled to include only those individuals who could not ameliorate or mitigate their condition with things like medications, prosthetics, and assistive devices. 

Stated more plainly, your condition was not substantially limiting if it could be corrected or lessened by some means or method.  The ADAAA explicity rejected this ruling, stating “the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effect of mitigating measures.” (Note: this does not apply to eyeglasses or contact lenses).

The ADAAA also broadened the definition of disabled by mandating that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

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