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ADA Amendments Act Expands Definition, Interpretation of Disability

President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) into law on Sept. 25. It will expand interpretation of the American with Disabilities Act’s coverage, reversing a trend toward narrow construction that began with a string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions starting in 1999. The amendments become effective January 1, 2009.

Learn more from a nationally recognized authority on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Jonathan R. Mook, by participating in the HR Hero audio conference, “ADA Amendments Act Takes Effect Jan. 1: Get Ready For New Challenges.” For more information, call (800) 274-6774.

Under the ADAAA, the term “disability” will be expanded by several new rules of construction, including:

  • Providing that the term must be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals;
  • Clarifying that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be a disability;
  • Protecting individuals suffering from episodic impairments or impairments that are in remission, so long as that impairment would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and
  • Excluding consideration of ameliorative effects of measures such as medication or treatment when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.

The ADAAA also provides an extensive list of those tasks that constitute “major life activities,” including physical tasks such as walking, standing, and lifting; mental tasks such as learning, reading, and thinking; and even the operation of major bodily functions, such as immune system function, cell growth, and reproductive function.

Finally, the Act defines the requirements of being “regarded as having an impairment,” specifying that individuals who are subjected to discrimination prohibited by the ADA, whether or not an actual or perceived impairment does limit the major life activities of the individual, will still be regarded as having an impairment.

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