Congress Expands Scope of Disability Law
By Jamie Becker
On January 1, 2009, changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect, expanding disability definitions to allow more individuals a greater opportunity to present their claims to a jury.
The ADA, originally passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against disabled employees or job applicants, but, according to critics, court decisions have limited its impact. In September, Congress enacted and President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 to reverse several U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Under the ADAAA, the term “disability” is redefined, and the scope of “major life activities” is expanded to include such physical activities as walking, standing and lifting; mental tasks such as learning, reading and thinking; and even the operation of bodily functions, such as immune system function, cell growth and reproductive function.
In addition, the ADA Amendments Act changes to the ADA to:
- Prohibit consideration of the impact of any mitigating measures, such as medication or corrective devices (with the exception of eyeglasses and contact lenses), when determining whether an individual is disabled
- Include as disabilities impairments that may be episodic or in remission as long as when the impairment is active, it substantially limits a major life activity
- Provide that, as long as the impairment is not transitory (with a duration greater than six months) or minor, an individual who claims to be “regarded as having a physical or mental impairment” only needs to show that he or she was subjected to discriminatory action based on the employer’s perception of an impairment
- Note that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity does not have to limit other major life activities to be considered a disability
More information on the ADA and disability discrimination is available at the ADA Home Page, a web resource of the U.S. Department of Justice.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director, Health Promotion]