In a Press Release (3/24/11), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) has announced that the final regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act (the “ADAAA”) are now available on the Federal Register website. These regulations are designed to simplify the determination of who has a “disability”, and to make it easier for people to establish that they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The new regulations are effective May 24, 2011 (60 days after publication).
According to the Press Release, the ADAAA went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. In the ADAAA, Congress directed and authorized the EEOC to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by the act. The ADAAA overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes or epilepsy.
The Press Release further says that the ADAAA and the final regulations keep the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” as: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) a record (or past history) of such an impairment, or (3) being regarded as having a disability. However, the ADAAA made significant changes in how those terms are interpreted, and the regulations implement those changes. Based on the statutory requirements, the regulations include a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability. For example, the principles provide that an impairment need not prevent or severely or significantly restrict performance of a major life activity to be considered a disability. Additionally, whether an impairment is a disability should be construed broadly, to the maximum extent allowable under the law. The principles also provide that, with one exception (ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), “mitigating measures,” such as medication and assistive devices like hearing aids, must not be considered when determining whether someone has a disability. Furthermore, impairments that are episodic (such as epilepsy) or in remission (such as cancer) are disabilities if they would be substantially limiting when active.
According to the Press Release, the regulations clarify that the term “major life activities” includes “major bodily functions,” such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and brain, neurological, and endocrine functions. The regulations also make clear that not every impairment will constitute a disability. The regulations include examples of impairments that should always be considered as disabilities, such as HIV infection, diabetes, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder. The regulations also make it easier for individuals to establish coverage under the “regarded as” part of the “disability” definition.