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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008

On September 25, 2008, the President signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADA Amendments Act" or "Act"). The Act emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.

The ADA Amendments Act is effective as of January 1, 2009.

The Act makes important changes to the definition of the term "disability" by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC's ADA regulations.

The ADA's basic definition of "disability" is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.

The Act

  • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term "substantially limits";
  • Expands the definition of "major life activities" by including two non-exhaustive lists:
  • - the first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating);

    - the second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., "functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions");

  • States that mitigating measures other than "ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses" shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of "regarded as" so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is "regarded as" disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor;
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the "regarded as" prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

The definition of disability... shall be construed broadly, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA. The focus of an ADA case should be on whether discrimination occurred, not on whether an individual meets the definition of 'disability'.

An impairment need not prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity in order to be considered a disability.
Someone with a 20-pound lifting restriction that is not of short-term duration is substantially limited in lifting, and need not also show that he is unable to perform activities of daily living that require lifting in order to be considered substantially limited in lifting.

An impairment may substantially limit a major life activity even if it lasts, or is expected to last, for fewer than six months. Temporary, non-chronic impairments of short duration; such as the common cold, seasonal or common influenza, a sprained joint, minor or non-chronic gastrointestinal disorders, or a broken bone that is expected to heal completely generally are not disabilities.