The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008

Definition of Disability

"Regarded As"

Rules of Construction

Mitigating Measures


The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) was enacted on September 25, 2008, and became effective on January 1, 2009. This law made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” It also directed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its ADA regulations to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA. The final regulations were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2011.

The definition of a "person with a disability" was expanded with the passage of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA).  Like an hourglass, after 18 years and many, many lawsuits and case studies, the definition slowly became narrowed. One of the main goals in passing the ADAAA was to bring the definition back to its broad definition, to its original intent, where it would cover many people with disabilities. The ADAAA did this, and more clearly explains what types of disabilities are covered and what may be considered mitigating measures and major life activities.

Below are the former and current definitions of "disability," and who subsequently covered under the Americans with Disability Act. In general, the ADA says that if you have a diagnosed disability you are covered by the ADA. In reality, as with all things disability-reality, every situation is case-by-case.

Two Definitions of Disability (ADA & ADAAA)
ADA 1990 ADAAA 2008


A person with a disability is defined as:

  • A person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  • A person with a record of such a  physical or mental impairment; or
  • A person who is regarded as having such an impairment.


As used in this Act:

(1) DISABILITY.—The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual—

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;

(B) a record of such an impairment; or

(C) being regarded as having such an impairment

(as described in paragraph (3)).


This definition is of critical importance because it determines whether an individual is covered by the ADA. The ADA Amendments Act retains the definition of disability but further defines and clarifies three critical terms within the original definition. These are: “substantially limits,” “major life activities,” and “regarded as having such impairment.” Furthermore, under the rules of construction for the definition, the ADAAA adds several standards that must be applied when considering the definition of disability.

An individual meets the requirement of ‘being regarded as having such an impairment’ if:

  • the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this Act because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity
  • shall not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

Rules of Construction for the Definition of Disability Under the ADA

  •     Construed Broadly
  •     Not necessary to restrict a Major Life Activity
  •     Extensive Analysis is not required
  •     Requires an individualized assessment
  •     Comparison to most people and does not require Medical or Statistical evidence
  •     Covers episodic or in remission
  •     Only need one major life activity
  •     No minimum duration requirement
  •     No regard to Mitigating Measures

Mitigating Measures are, for example:

(I) medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies;
(II) use of assistive technology;
(III) reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or
(IV) learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.
      (ii) The ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment  substantially limits a major life activity.
     (iii) As used in this subparagraph—
(V) the term ‘ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses’ means lenses that are intended to fully correct visual acuity or eliminate refractive error; and
(VI) the term ‘low-vision devices’ means devices that magnify, enhance, or otherwise augment a visual image.


Fact Sheet on the EEOC’s Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA

Notice Concerning The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008

Questions and Answers for Small Businesses: The Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Questions and Answers on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

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