What is considered a “disability” under the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It ensures equal opportunity in employment for disabled persons. The statute specifically provides that:
No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12112(a).
The main question is what constitutes a “disability” under the ADA? The term “disability” can encompass a lot. As defined by the ADA, a disability is (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual, (2) a record of such an impairment or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. The definition can be broken down further. 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).
First, a disability can be a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities.” A “major life activity” can include walking, caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, etc. A “major life activity” can also include the operation of a bodily function, such as the immune system, digestive system, brain, respiratory system, etc. 42 U.S.C. §12102(2).
Second, you can have a disability under the ADA if you have a “record of such an impairment.” This definition is simple – if you have a medical record of having a physical or mental impairment, then you have a disability under the ADA.
Third, you can have a disability under the ADA if you are “regarded as having such an impairment.” An individual satisfies this definition if the individual establishes that he/she has been discriminated against because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment. 42 U.S.C. §12102(3). If an employer perceives you as having a physical or mental impairment and discriminates against you because of that perception, then you likely have a disability under the ADA. Also, if you have an actual physical or mental impairment that is obvious/noticeable and your employer discriminates against you because if it, then you likely have a disability under the ADA.
You can even file a disability lawsuit under the ADA if your employer denies you a job, promotion, salary increase, etc. because you are known to “associate or have a relationship” with a person who has a disability under the ADA. 42 U.S.C. §12112(b)(4).
So what are the most common examples of disabilities?
To give you an idea of what constitutes a disability, here are some of the most common examples of disabilities under the ADA:
1. Back/Spinal Injury
2. Psychiatric/Mental Impairments
3. Neurological Impairments
4. Heart Impairments
5. Hearing Impairments
What is NOT considered a disability under the ADA? This article discusses what IS considered a disability under the ADA, but here is a list of what IS NOT considered a disability:
1. Homosexuality and bisexuality;
2. Transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;
3. Compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; and
4. Psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.
42 U.S.C. §12211.
It is important to remember to review the entire ADA statute very carefully to determine if you have a disability.
If you find yourself in the stressful situation of disability discrimination, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.