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Understanding the Basics of ADA and ADAAA

By October 13, 2020February 3rd, 2021ACCESSIBILITY NEWS

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas:

  1. Employment (Title I)
  2. Access to State and Local Government Programs/Services and Transportation (Title II)
  3. Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities (Title III)
  4. Telecommunications/Communications (Title IV)
  5. Miscellaneous (Title V)

According to the ADA, the definition of an individual with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

“Amendments Act” or ADAAA

The ADA “Amendments Act” of 2008 (ADAAA Act) enacted changes to the ADA’s definition of “disability” that expands upon the definition and the scope of what would be included under both the ADA and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

What does ADAAA Mean?

According to the ADAAA, the expanded definition of “major life activities” includes disabilities related to “major bodily functions” as well. A non-exhaustive list of these include the following:

  • 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.

Clarifications and Definitions of Disability

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission further expands upon those identified impairments to include individuals with epilepsy, paralysis, substantial hearing or visual impairments, cognitive impairments, or learning disabilities. These and the list of disabilities above are covered under the ADA and ADAAA and discrimination against these individuals is prohibited.

What does it mean to have a record of a disability or an impairment?

Having a record of a disability or impairment means the individual has a history or previous condition that would qualify as a disability even though the individual does not currently, in the present-day, have that disability or impairment that is limiting major life activities.

What does it mean to be regarded as having a disability or impairment?

“Regarded as” means that the person:

  • Has an impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity;
  • Has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity only as a result of the attitudes of others toward them; or
  • Does not have any impairment but is treated by an entity as having an impairment.

An example of this is an employee who has undergone treatments for cancer in the past and their cancer is currently in remission but they are passed up for a senior-level role because leadership is afraid their cancer could return and affect their job performance.

“A federal district court recently held that cancer, even when in remission, can constitute a disability under the 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hoffman v. Carefirst of Fort Wayne Inc., No. 1:09-CV-251 (N.D. Ind. August 31, 2010).” Source:

The following are some examples of mental and physical impairments that would be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act:

  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Orthopedic, speech, and hearing impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Heart disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental retardation
  • Drug addiction
  • HIV
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Diabetes

T-Base Fosters a Culture of Inclusivity

“Companies that are disability-friendly outperform those that aren’t.” T-Base Communications

The Return on Disability Index, listed on the New York Stock Exchange as RODI, demonstrates that firms with the highest results in disability-driven value creation outperform their competitors in terms of long-term stock price. A corporate culture of inclusiveness can result in innovations first intended to improve accessibility, but which then benefit everyone and impact sales. One example is Siri.

Contact a T-Base representative to learn about ways to foster disability-friendly cultures and accessibility within your organization.

Jeff Jullion

Jeff Jullion

Manager of Education Accessibility Communications  at T-Base Communications Inc.