Who Is Covered Under ADA

Posted by Rochelle Harris on Mar 25th 2021

First Things First …

If you have recently had a debilitating accident that has left you with either a temporary or even a permanent disability, you may be asking the question, "who is covered under ADA?" Or perhaps you have a friend, a loved one, or a person you have an interest in who's disabled, and you're trying to gain some pertinent information. Whatever the case may be, that's the topic we'll be going into for this post. But first, let's talk just a little bit about what the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is. Originally passed into law back in 1990, it is designed to keep people with disabilities from being discriminated against, either in the workplace, or in the ability to have access to the same places everyone else does. Sounds fair, doesn't it? I mean, America is built on freedom and equality for all, is it not? Therefore, we have by and large tried to adapt our businesses into becoming accessible, both for disabled patrons as well as disabled workers. It is now punishable by steep federal fines, potentially in the tens of thousands of dollars, for any business or employer found to be non-compliant, and open to a host of lawsuits and potential publicity nightmares. As a side note, if your business has 15 or more full-time employees, you are not exempt! All businesses who do, must comply with ADA requirements, and any construction begun after the 2010 revisions must be built with these standards in place. You can find all the details in the handbook: 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Disability Is … Complicated

When attempting to define what a qualifying disability actually is, at least according to the U.S. government, it becomes … well, complicated. First off, although a bit confusing, the definition is:

The ADA defines a physical impairment as 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

The ADA defines a mental impairment as any psychological or mental disorder, such as emotional or mental illness, mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, and learning disabilities.

Although there is no definitive list for these disabilities due to the extreme difficulty in including every current and possible future mental disorder, there are a few examples listed. These are the examples given, inclusive of both physical and mental impairments:

  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Orthopedic, speech, and hearing impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Heart disease
  • Epilepsy (added in the 2008 Amendments)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental retardation
  • Drug addiction
  • HIV
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Diabetes (added in the 2008 Amendments)
  • Cancer (added in the 2008 Amendments)

Furthermore, the ADA states that the impairment must be either a physiological or a mental disorder. Depression, stress/anxiety disorders, and similar conditions are only sometimes considered impairments, under the ADA guidelines. Whether depression and stress are considered impairments depends solely upon whether or not they result from a documented mental or physiological disorder, or they result from either personal life or job pressures. In addition, the impairment must substantially limit at least one major life activity. Although an employer is restricted from asking you about your disability, aside from asking about your ability to perform the necessary job duties, and technically cannot ask you to take a medical examination (unless it is required of every other employee in that position, once hired), be prepared to be able to show proof of disabilities not visibly apparent. But if necessary, remember there are plenty of disability advocates out there, so don't hesitate to get some assistance.

Definitively Speaking …

Is it just me, or does it seem like whenever the federal government gets involved, documents and legalities become riddled with confusing terms and wording that even experts have a hard time deciphering-? Anyway, if that's the "norm", then the ADA is definitely no exception. There are definitions to define definitions, as a result of originally vague, obscure descriptions given in the first place! What does "substantially limit" mean, exactly? What constitutes a "major life activity"? What does "reasonable accommodation" entail? Let's find out the answers. First off, a major life activity is defined as to include, but not be limited to:

  • caring for oneself
  • performing manual tasks
  • seeing
  • hearing
  • eating
  • sleeping
  • walking
  • standing
  • lifting
  • bending
  • speaking
  • breathing
  • learning
  • reading
  • concentrating
  • thinking
  • communicating
  • working

So that's pretty much every major life activity/function I can think of, anyway! Next, let's look at what "substantially limits" actually means. "Substantially limits" is legally defined in the ADA as: the extent to which the impairment limits an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity, as compared to most people in the general population, whether or not an individual chooses to forgo mitigating measures. Mitigating measures are considered things like medications and assistive devices, which a disabled person may use to reduce the effects of his or her disability.

Land Of Confusion

As you can see, to answer our original question of who is covered under ADA, we must navigate through the land of confusion that is typical of the documents written by the federal government. However, when we emerge, we can (sort of) piece together the intended information to be: anyone who has a legitimate, documented disability - as long as it's either physiological - or psychological, at least most of the time - is covered, under the ADA. Basically, if you have any difficulty navigating in a world still trying to adjust to being all-inclusive, there is certainly no shortage of legal advocates that are out there, in every state, to help you and answer any other questions you may have. The progress we have made so far may be a little slow, but it has been steadily moving in the right direction. It appears that accessible design standards will be implemented in every business constructed after 2010, and this is a great start. The ADA was enacted to better protect the rights of disabled individuals, and stop the discrimination of these people in any form, which is who it is intended to cover. Also check out ADA Central for your ADA signs. Find out what is a disability under the ADA.