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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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ADA Amendments Act – Changes to Definition of Disability

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has just announced the final regulations to the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), in order to simplify and clarify the definition of "disability". This is important stuff.

The ADAAA was passed into law in 2009. In the Act, the US Congress tasked the EEOC with revising regulation to conform with the Act.

One of the most significant change is that the ADAAA new regulations overturn several decisions made by the US Supreme Court, where Congress found the Supreme Court had interpreted the definition of disability too narrowly.

"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 definition of disability under the ADAAA is the same as was in the ADA:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. a record (or past history) of such an impairment;
  3. or being regarded as having a disability.

While the definition hasn’t changed, the new law significantly changes how those terms are interpreted and the regulations implement those changes. Good! One bit that really caught my eye is this one:

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.

Another bit that caught my eye is that under the new law the focus will be on how someone was treated, rather than what an employer believes the person’s condition to be. This *should* increase protection against discrimination. Only time will tell.

It’s not sure yet how, or if, these changes will impact countries like New Zealand. There is no direct link between regulations here and regulations in the US – and that’s good. On the other hand, NZ does keep an eye on current trends. Time will tell!

The EEOC’s final regulations are available for reading from the US Federal Register site (PDF). There is also a Fact Sheet available.

What impact, good or bad, do you think these new regulations are going to have on the lives of people with disabilities in the United States, and elsewhere?

2 thoughts on “ADA Amendments Act – Changes to Definition of Disability

  1. The courts in USA are too focused on what constitutes disability and not if an actual discrimination happened. Hopefully the ADAAA will help in some cases though I am skeptical overall. Majority of people (including lawyers) still don’t understand that ADA is a civil rights law, it’s an anti-discrimination law to protect anyone in US, it’s not a free handouts law or an affirmative action.

  2. I would hope that clarification of what is, and isn’t, a disability for the purpose of discrimination will reduce the need for litigation. Perhaps I’m just na├»ve…

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