The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued its final regulations to implement the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Like the law they implement, the regulations are designed to simplify the determination of who has a “disability” and make it easier for people to establish that they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The regulations are effective as of March 25, 2011.
The ADA Amendments Act
The ADAAA 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 ADAAA states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals. 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 went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.
Definition of “Disability” Remains the Same
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.
Changes to Interpretation of “Disability”
The regulations provide a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability.
- For example, to be considered a disability, an impairment may not necessarily prevent or severely or significantly restrict performance of a major life activity.
- Additionally, whether an impairment is a disability should be interpreted 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.
- 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 not every impairment will constitute a disability. The regulations include examples of impairments that should easily be considered disabilities, such as:
- HIV infection,
- Epilepsy, and
- Bipolar disorder
The regulations also make it easier for individuals to establish that they are “regarded as” having a disability. Under the new law, the focus is on how the person is treated rather than on what an employer believes about the nature of the person’s impairment.
To To read more about the ADA Amendments Act, please click on the EEOC links below:
EEOC’s Notice Concerning the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008
Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA
Q&As on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
Q&As for Small Businesses: The Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
Fact Sheet on the EEOC’s Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA