What is considered a disability under the ADA? Find out here.

  • 30.11.2020

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law which prohibits discrimination among people with disabilities. The ADA protects individuals with a disability in all aspects of public life namely employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of any person with a disability, ensuring equal opportunities for everybody, especially people with disabilities.

On Employment and Job-related concerns



Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) involves an individual with a disability and employment, specifically in the following areas:

  • Advancement
  • Benefits
  • Compensation
  • Firing
  • Hiring
  • Job application procedures
  • Training

The ADA establishes guidelines for employers to follow, ensuring protection for employees and job applicants with a disability. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees and job applicants.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation would help enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. This may be in a form of technical assistance that allows a job applicant or employee to accomplish job functions.

This portion of the law is regulated and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

An exemption to this guideline is when said reasonable accommodation would affect the company. An employer may consider this before providing reasonable accommodation, especially in cases where it may produce undue hardship for the company’s reputation and operations.

Definition of disability

What exactly is considered a disability under the ADA? Based on the definition of “handicap” in the Rehabilitation Act, the definition of disability involves 3 conditions. If any of the 3 conditions are met, the person is considered to have a disability according to the ADA. The three conditions of the ADA, with respect to an individual, are the following:

  • (A) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
  • (B) A record or history of such impairment (even if he/she does not currently have said impairment) ; or
  • (C) Being regarded as having such physical or mental impairment

Physical Impairment

The ADA defines a physical impairment as a person with a physiological disorder or condition, anatomical loss, or cosmetic disfigurement that impacts one or more of these body systems:

  • Neurological
  • Special-sense organs
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Digestive
  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Reproductive
  • Hemic and lymphatic
  • Endocrine
  • Skin
  • Genitourinary

Mental Impairment

The ADA defines a mental impairment as person having any psychological or mental disorder, such as emotional or mental illness, mental retardation, organic brain syndrome and learning disabilities. More on this including examples, will be further discussed later.

Major life activities

An important aspect to note about the definition of disability is that the impairment must substantially limit major life activities of individuals with a disability. Some examples of these are the following:

  • Communicating
  • Eating
  • Hearing
  • Lifting
  • Reading
  • Seeing
  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking

If a person has a condition that hinders himself/herself to do any of these things, he/she may be classified a person with a disability.

What are considered as disabilities under the ADA?

Although the ADA provides a definition of “disability”, there are no regulations stating all the specific conditions considered as physical or mental impairments in the ADA. Due to the possibility of new disorders in the future, it will be difficult to come up with a definitive and updated list of specific conditions that classify as a disability.

The ADA mentioned some examples of impairments considered as disabilities. These conditions are the following:

  • AIDS, HIV and its symptoms
  • Asthma
  • Back/Spinal injury
  • Blindness and other visual impairments
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Drug addiction
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Mental retardation
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Paralysis
  • Complications from pregnancy
  • Thyroid gland disorders
  • Loss of body parts
  • Orthopedic, speech and hearing impairments
  • Specific learning disabilities

What are not considered as disabilities under the ADA?

According to the ADA, these are some impairments not considered as disabilities:

  • Bisexuality
  • Broken bones that heal completely
  • Cancer
  • Common cold, or the flu
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Homosexuality
  • Old age
  • Pregnancy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sexual behavior disorders
  • Sprained joints

Other cases

One case is stress for example. It is an impairment or is regarded as one if it resulted from a documented mental or physiological disorder, from personal life or job pressures, or limit one to perform at least one or more major life activity. If any of these are met, then you can apply for protection under the ADA.

It should be noted that illegal drug use done to cope with a disability, disqualifies one from receiving protection under the ADA.

Mental disorders

Other conditions such as mental disorders may qualify as disabilities, if it follows the definition of disability as mentioned above. Mental illnesses covered by the ADA are the following:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia or social anxiety disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Personality disorders

These mental health conditions are covered under the ADA if these affect a person’s ability to think, learn, concentrate, sleep, communicate or impact major life activities.

In line with this, job applicants with mental or psychiatric ADA disabilities have certain rights, including the right to privacy. Here, a person with a disability may choose whether to disclose his disability to his employer. Additionally, they have a right to job accommodation.

To find more information on a disability or anything related to it, kindly seek legal advice.

Be protected by the ADA and learn more about it today with ADA Compliance Professionals, Inc. For more information, kindly proceed to https://adacompliancepros.com/

While your physical location is crucial to ensure access to all, digital accessibility is equally important. VPAT compliance is the ultimate way to ensure your digital properties are accessible, especially if your business works with any government entity. ADACP can conduct accessibility audits on your digital assets and document our findings with a VPAT, which is what many of your clients will insist on. A template for VPAT can be found on our VPAT page.