Who is a person with a disability?

A person has a disability if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects individuals who have a record of a substantially limiting impairment, and people who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment.

To be protected under the ADA, an individual must have a record of, or be regarded as having a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment. A substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity.

A diagnosis of an impairment alone does not establish that an individual has a disability within the meaning of the ADAAA. A diagnosis from a treating physician, along with information about how the disability affects the employee, may suffice.

In order to be protected by the ADA An individual with a disability must also be qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

What is considered a physical or mental impairment?

A physical impairment includes any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin and endocrine. Mental impairments include, but are not limited to, any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

What does “substantially limits” mean?

An impairment need not prevent or severely or significantly limit a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.”

An impairment that is transitory (lasting or expected to last for six months or less) and minor will generally not be considered “substantially limiting.”

An impairment that is episodic or in remission meets the definition of disability if it substantially limits a major life activity when active.

What are considered major life activities?

Major life activities include, but are not limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.

Major life activities also include, but are not limited to:  the operation of major bodily functions, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions; and the operation of an individual organ within a body system (e.g., the operation of the kidney, liver, or pancreas).

What are essential functions?

Essential functions are the most important job duties that an employee must be able to perform to achieve the objectives of the job. The applicant or employee must satisfy the educational background, employment experience, skills, licenses, and any other qualification standards that are required for the job. The applicant or employee must also be able to perform the tasks that are essential to the execution of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

A written job description prepared before advertising or hiring for a job will be considered in determining essential functions. Marginal functions are those tasks or assignments that are tangential and not as important

Factors that are considered in determining whether a task is essential are:

  • whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function
  • the number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the performance of the function can be distributed
  • the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function
  • the actual work experience of present or past employees in the job
  • the time spent performing a function
  • the consequences of not requiring that an employee perform a function
  • removal of the function would fundamentally change the job
  • the terms of a collective bargaining agreement