ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA):  The law made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

Assistive technology: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Examples include message boards, screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard and mouse modifications, and head pointers.

Disability: A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.

Episodic or Remission: An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

Essential job function: Fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term “essential functions” does not include the marginal functions of the position.

  • A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:
    • The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function;
    • The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed; and/or
    • The function may be highly specialized so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.
  • Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes, but is not limited to:
    • The employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential;
    • Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job;
    • The amount of time spent on the job performing the function;
    • The consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function;
    • The terms of a collective bargaining agreement;
    • The work experience of past incumbents in the job; and/or
    • The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

Fundamental alteration: A change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered; or a cost that a recipient can demonstrate would result in an undue burden.

Impairment: A physical impairment is a physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body systems. A mental impairment is any mental or psychological disorder.

Individual with a Disability:  A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual or a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Interactive Process:  A dialogue between the employer and employee used to identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and determine potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.

Major life activity: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) expanded “major life activities” to include “major bodily functions.”

  • Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
  • Major Bodily Functions include, but are not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

Mitigating measures: A measure utilized (such as medication or glasses) that eliminates or reduces the symptoms of an impairment so it is no longer substantially limiting.

Personal services or personal devices: Public entities and public accommodations are not required to provide personal services or personal devices. Examples of personal devices include wheelchairs, prescription eyeglasses, and hearing aids. Personal assistance service need not be provided in activities such as eating, toileting, and dressing unless the service is typically provided by the entity.

Qualified individual with a disability:  A person with a disability who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.

Reasonable accommodation: A modification, adjustment, or elimination of a barrier to a program or service that enables an individual with a disability to participate on an equal basis. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. It also requires that covered entities make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity.  For a student, this might be extended time for test taking; for others it could be sign language interpreting, work modifications, or event access.

Regarded as having such an impairment: An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to a prohibited action because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment, whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity. The ADA protects certain persons who are regarded by a private entity as having a physical or mental impairment against adverse actions based on that belief.

Record of a substantially limiting condition: ADA Technical Assistance Guidelines state that this protected group includes a person who has a history of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity but who has recovered from the impairment. Examples of individuals who have a history of impairments are persons who have histories of mental or emotional illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, heart disease, or cancer.

Substantially limits: An impairment is a disability under the ADA only if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. An impairment is substantially limiting if a person is unable to perform an activity as compared to an average person in the general population. An impairment need not prevent or severely or significantly limit a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.” Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity must be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as: Medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; Use of assistive technology; Reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or Learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications. The ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.

Transitory and minor impairments: A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

Undue hardship: Excessively costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. In determining undue hardship, factors to be considered include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, the financial resources, the nature and structure of the employer’s operation, as well as the impact of the accommodation on the specific facility providing the accommodation. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it will impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Accordingly, whether a particular accommodation will impose an undue hardship must always be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Universal design: An approach to the design of products, places, policies, and services so that can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.