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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

EEOC Issues Rules to Broaden ADA Coverage

April 7, 2011

On March 25, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued final rules implementing changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that expand the definition of disability and will make it easier for individuals seeking protection under the ADA to establish eligibility. Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) largely to counter Supreme Court rulings that had narrowly construed the definition of a covered disability. The changes to the law took effect on January 1, 2009; the new rules are effective on May 24.

The ADAAA did not alter the statutory definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Instead, the statutory changes and the new rules change the way that these terms should be interpreted. A statement of purpose, applicability, and construction included in the regulatory language reads as follows:

§1630.1(c)(4) Broad coverage. The primary purpose of the ADAAA is to make it easier for people with disabilities to obtain protection under the ADA. Consistent with the Amendments Act's purpose of reinstating a broad scope of protection under the ADA, the definition of ``disability'' in this part shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA. The primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether the individual meets the definition of disability. The question of whether an individual meets the definition of disability under this part should not demand extensive analysis.

The rules go on to provide lengthy, but non-exhaustive lists of physical or mental impairments and major life activities. Guidance for determining whether a disability “substantially limits” an individual in a major life activity is provided by nine rules of construction. For instance, the standard of comparison is whether a disability substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. Another rule states that such a comparison will not normally required scientific or statistical analysis, although such analysis may be used if appropriate. Other rules maintain that the determination should not take into account the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures or treatments (except for vision correction), and that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is still a disability if it would be one when active.

The regulations go on to assert that while individual assessments may be necessary in some cases, a number of conditions will always result in a determination of coverage so any assessment will be simple and straightforward. A list of examples is provided including deafness, blindness, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, mobility impairments, and major depressive disorder, among many others.



Michele Madia
Director, Environmental Leadership

Anne Gross
Vice President, Regulatory Affairs