FAQ: Definition of Disability

Question:

Who is protected from disability discrimination in public and private services?

Answer:

Regarding public and private services, a "qualified" individual with a disability under the ADA is one who meets the essential eligibility requirements for the program or activity offered by the covered entities. The "essential eligibility requirements" will depend on the type of service or activity involved. For some activities, such as State licensing programs, the ability to meet specific skill and performance requirements may be "essential." For other services, such as a “Information and Referral Program”, the "essential eligibility requirements" would be minimal. 

A public or private entity may not impose eligibility criteria for participation in its services, that either screen out or tend to screen out persons with disabilities, unless it can show that such requirements are necessary for the provision of the service. For example: A public or private gym only accepted a driver’s license as an ID from the people who request the service. An unnecessary blanket exclusion of this nature would violate the ADA because the requirement is not related with the service requested and screen out people with disabilities who are not able to drive.

Question:

Does the ADA consider an impairment (such as epilepsy or manic-depressive disorder) that is episodic or in remission to be a disability?

Answer:

According to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 an impairment that is episodic or in remission would likely be considered a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when in an active stage.

Question:

Is an applicant or employee who is either currently illegally using drugs or an alcoholic covered by the ADA?

Answer:

Individuals who are currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs are specifically excluded from the definition of a qualified individual with a disability. 

However, an alcoholic is a person with a disability, and is protected under the ADA. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic, such as time away to attend treatment programs or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to someone whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol.

Question:

Who is protected from disability related employment discrimination?

Answer:

To be protected from disability related employment discrimination the individual must also be qualified, meaning s/he has the legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that s/he holds or seeks, and who can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. If the individual is qualified to perform essential functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation.

Question:

How do I know if I have a disability under the ADA?

Answer:

The ADA, unlike some other disability related laws, does not define disability based on a medical diagnosis, but rather on a functional definition. An individual is considered to have a "disability" under the ADA if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. 

Examples of major life activities include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.

Under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 major life activities now also include the operation of major bodily functions, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions.