What is Considered a Disability under the Law?

Our basic understanding of a concept is not always on par with the legal system’s understanding of that concept. The term “disability” is one example. What exactly is a disability according to the law? We can look to the laws that protect disabled workers for a better understanding.

The Legal Definition of Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a federal law, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), a state law, prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability. To meet the standard of disability under these laws, certain criteria must be met. Under these laws, you are considered disabled if you:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity with or without the use of mitigating measures such as medications, wheelchairs, etc.,
  • have a record of such impairment, OR
  • are regarded, or perceived, by your employer as having an impairment.

Examining the Definition Further

The definition of disability should be examined further. We can look at the meanings of (1) physical impairment, (2) mental impairment, and (3) major life activity.

  1. Physical Impairment

A physical impairment can be any physiological condition that affects one or more of the following body systems: musculoskeletal or special sense organs, neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, or endocrine. Back and spinal problems, which are physical impairments, are the most common disability claims under the ADA.

  1. Mental Impairment

A mental impairment can be any mental or psychological condition. Mental impairments include mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, and mental illnesses, among others. Psychiatric disorders and mental disabilities are common disability claims under the ADA. These claims involve such conditions as depression (including bipolar disorder) and anxiety disorders (including posttraumatic stress disorder).

  1. Major Life Activity

You are considered disabled, under the law, when your physical or mental impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, sleeping, walking, reaching, lifting, concentrating, sitting, and speaking. Examples of substantial limitation of major life activity include being unable to care for oneself or being able to stand for only 15 minutes at a time.

Not Every Condition is a Disability under these Laws

The legal term “disability” does NOT include: (1) transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders; (2) compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or (3) psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs. Homosexuality and bisexuality are not considered impairments and, thus, are not considered disabilities either.

Legal Remedies for Disability Discrimination

Talk to an employment attorney if you were discriminated against because of a real or perceived disability. You can take legal action against an employer who violated your rights under the ADA and PHRA (e.g., by filing a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filing a lawsuit). You may be entitled to damages for disability discrimination.

Don’t hesitate to contact a disability discrimination lawyer. If you think you have a disability discrimination case, contact KM&A for a free and immediate consultation. We believe that, in order to aggressively pursue our clients’ interests, we have to be extremely accessible. You can call a Pittsburgh lawyer at 412-626-5626 or a Philadelphia lawyer at 215-618-9185. We can also be reached by email at lawyer@lawkm.com.