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Americans with Disabilities: ADA and ADAAA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first passed in 1990 with intent to eliminate discrimination for those with disabilities. The key for the ADA was to impose additional affirmative obligations upon business to ACCOMMODATE the needs of those with disabilities, and to facilitate their economic independence. In 2008, it was updated to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), expanding the coverage and protection for those with disabilities. The purpose of the ADAAA was “to restore the intent and protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”

The ADA and the ADAAA define disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such impairment; or being regarded as having an impairment. The ADA defined the term “substantially limits” as “significantly restricted.” The ADAAA offers a broader definition of “substantially limited” and “major life activities.” Major life activities under the ADA included walking, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks and working, seeing, hearing, learning and caring for oneself. Major life activities were expanded under the ADAAA from an activity that is “of crucial importance” to most people's daily lives to a list of major life activities to also include operation of major bodily functions. Furthermore, the ADAAA clarified that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity is sufficient, even if episodic in nature.

Under the ADAAA, the individual must demonstrate that the employer perceived him/her as having a physical or mental impairment, whereas under the ADA he/she must demonstrate that the impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Overall, under the ADAAA the burden of proof is more on the employer to meet its legal obligations and less on assessment of the individual with a disability. Prior to the ADAAA, most courts had ruled in favor of the employers in ADA litigation cases. Since the ADAAA was passed, employees have had greater success in the court system.

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