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ADA Amendments Act 2008

Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act is Signed

President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. The ADAAA ensures that the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act will once again be available to the many people with mental or phyical disabilities who need them.

Enacted after lengthy negotiations, the ADAAA overturns several Supreme Court decisions that had made it difficult for people with disabilities to qualify for protection under the ADA. As a result of these decisions, federal courts have held that many people with conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities were not covered by the ADA.

Mitigating measures. The Act provides that the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, such that it rises to the level of a disability, must be made without considering the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures. Note that the changes bring the ADA closer to the standards under California’s disability bias law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which broadly provides that mitigating measures cannot be considered in determining whether a major life activity is limited. (Click here for an article explaining the differences between FEHA and existing ADA disability protections.)

Major life activities. The Act adds to the ADA examples of major life activities, and clarifies that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit others to be considered a disability. The legislation also lowers the bar for ADA coverage by rejecting a previous Supreme Court decision and a current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulation that construe “substantially limits” to mean significantly or severely restricted. (Keep in mind that the California FEHA already uses a looser standard, requiring only that a major life activity be “limited.”)

Remission. Under the Act, an impairment that’s in remission or episodic will qualify as a disability if it “would substantially limit a major life activity.”

“Regarded as.” The legislation clarifies the standard for “being regarded as disabled.” An individual will have to show only that he or she was discriminated against because of an actual or perceived impairment, even if the impairment doesn’t limit or isn’t perceived to limit a major life activity. And, impairments that are transitory or minor (that is, with an actual or expected duration of six months or less) won’t qualify for “regarded as” protection.

Claims of “no disability.” The Act provides that the ADA doesn’t cover claims by nondisabled individuals contending discrimination because of the lack of a disability.

Broad construction. The Act specifies that the definitions of disability and substantially limited are meant to be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under the ADA.

The House of Representatives passed the ADAAA in June 2008 by a vote of 402-17. The Senate recently passed a slightly revised version by unanimous consent, and that measure was subsequently approved by the House. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2009.


Senator who was chief author of original ADA attended White House signing ceremony. Harkin was the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

“The day, 18 years ago, when President Bush’s father signed the original Americans with Disabilities Act into law was the proudest day of my Senate career. But this day comes close, because this new law overturns Supreme Court decisions that have taken away the rights of people with disabilities, and restores the original promise and protections of the ADA.

“I think of my brother Frank, who was deaf, and who suffered terrible discrimination and exclusion, and I think of millions of other Americans with disabilities who face similar obstacles. As chief Senate sponsor of both the original ADA and this new ADA restoration act, I am deeply gratified that we could work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that all Americans have the right to equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.”

Since the ADA became law in 1990, a series of court decisions narrowed the category of who qualifies as an “individual with a disability,” contrary to Congressional intent. By raising the threshold for an impairment to qualify as a disability, these court decisions have deprived individuals of the discrimination protections Congress intended to provide. The ADA Amendments Act would remedy this problem and restore workplace protections to every American with a disability.

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