The Americans with Disabilities Act was a landmark piece of legislation. It plays an important role in ensuring equal rights and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. According to Pew Research, in 2021 about 42.5 million people had a qualifying disability.
To benefit from the protections offered by the ADA, people should understand what qualifies as a disability under the law.
Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition is intentionally broad to encompass a wide range of conditions and impairments.
Typically, the law covers conditions, such as mobility impairments, sensory impairments (like blindness or deafness), cognitive impairments and mental health disorders. Importantly, the ADA does not provide an exhaustive list of impairments in recognition that new conditions and medical advancements continually emerge.
The impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities encompass essential everyday tasks. These include walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, caring for oneself and performing manual tasks. The ADA also includes activities like working, learning and socializing as major life activities. An impairment substantially limits these activities if it prevents or significantly restricts an individual’s ability to perform them compared to the average person.
It is important to note that the ADA takes into account the effects of mitigating measures when determining a qualifying condition. These measures include medication, medical devices or prosthetics. If an individual’s impairment would be substantially limiting without these measures, the ADA still considers it a disability.
The ADA also recognizes that some impairments may be episodic or in remission. Even if an impairment is not currently active but has the potential to substantially limit major life activities during an episode, it can still qualify as a disability under the ADA.
Whether a particular condition qualifies as a disability under the ADA may vary from case to case. The determination often depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the individual’s situation.