Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act
Amendments Act of 2008

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA) was passed by Congress in December 2008 and became effective January 1, 2009.  This significant piece of legislation corrected what Congress considered to be departure from the intent of the original ADA (passed in 1990) brought about by several narrow interpretations of the law through Supreme Court rulings.  These rulings weakened the law and made it difficult for people with disabilities to received the protection the law intended.
The following will help you understand the changes brought about by the ADAAA and how they may impact children with disabilities:

Expanded list of major life activities

Before ADAAA:  The definition of major life activities included but was not limited to:  caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Now:  The following activities have been added:  eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.  However, the list is not intended to be all-inclusive and an activity not listed about may be covered.  Additionally, the legislation clarified that an impairment substantially limiting one major life activity does not need to limit others to be considered a disability.

Substantially limits a major life activity or activities

Before ADAAA:  The Supreme Court rulings had resulted in a narrow interpretation of “substantially limits,” both in scope and conditions on which the determination was made.

Now:  While the ADAAA did not change the term “substantially limits,” the new law clearly establishes that the term is to be interpreted broadly and inclusively.  The law clarifies that the measurement for impairments that are episodic or in remission must be considered at the time they are active.  Also, Congress clarified that the decision of whether an individual has a disability should not entail an extensive analysis and that it should be expansive.

Removes consideration of mitigating measures

Before ADAAA:  Several Supreme Court decisions in 1999 established that the decision of whether an individual has a disability under the ADA must take into account the effects, both positive and negative, of any “mitigating measures” used by that individual.

Now:  The ADAAA requires the “substantially limits” decision to be made without regard to any impact or ameliorative effects of mitigating measures.  For example, schools can no longer consider the effect of medication on a student with ADHD, asthma, diabetes, etc.  In addition, the ADAAA provides an expansive list of mitigating measures.  Such measures include but are not limited to:  medication, medical supplies, equipment or appliances, low-vision devices (except eyeglasses or contact lenses), hearing aides, cochlear implants, assistive technology, learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications, and reasonable accommodations.

Senator Tom Harkin (D, IA) — Statement on House Passage of the ADA Amendments Act, September 17, 2008

Senator Tom Harkin
Senator      Tom Harkin

“This bill better defines who Congress intends to meet the definition of disabled.  It clarifies that mitigating measures, such as medication, may not be taken into account.  It provides guidance as to what is a major life activity.  And, most critically, it lowers the threshold for how limiting a condition must be, and insists that courts interpret the ADA broadly.
For all these reasons, this bill returns the focus of the ADA to where it was meant to be – on whether a person with a disability is being discriminated against.

Learn more about the ADAAA

The above information was adapted from the Parent Advocacy Brief “Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act” by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.  Click here for the full brief.

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