Spotlight on the ADA’s Definition of Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a comprehensive civil rights law enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination based on “disability” in a range of areas, including private employment, places of public accommodation, and government benefits and services.  The ADA’s definition of disability has three prongs: 

● an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (the “actual disability” prong);

● a record of such an impairment (the “record of” prong); or

● being subjected to an adverse action based on an actual or perceived impairment (the “regarded as” prong). 42 U.S.C.A. § 12102(2)(C). 

This definition is important because it determines if an individual is a member of the class covered by the ADA, and therefore eligible for the law’s protections.

In 2008, in response to a series of Supreme Court and lower court decisions that unduly narrowed the class of people covered by the ADA, Congress amended the definition of disability to make it easier for people with disabilities to obtain protection under the ADA.  Despite the ADA Amendments Act’s (“ADAAA”) goal of ensuring broad coverage and moving litigants past the threshold definitional issue, some confusion over the application of the revised definition of disability remains.  

This section is designed to be a resource for individuals with disabilities and their counsel regarding the ADA’s definition of disability, as amended by the ADAAA.  It shines a spotlight on how the definition of disability has been applied in the following recent cases:

Additional appellate and lower court cases are forthcoming.