Definition of Disability

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)).


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.

This is discussed in more detail in our Employer Toolkit.

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