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EEOC Releases Final Rules Implementing ADAAA

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

A girl in a wheelchair with her laptop smiles as an office mate stands behind her

To help simplify determining who has a disability and to make it easier for the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect them, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced its final regulations to implement the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) on March 24. The new rules will go into effect on May 24.

The ADAAA first went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. Because of this law, a number of significant changes were made to the definition of disability under the ADA. In fact, 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 ADAAA states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals.

In the ADAAA, Congress directed the EEOC to revise its regulations to conform to changes already made by the Act. Therefore, the EEOC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on proposed regulations on Sept. 23, 2009 and received more than 600 public comments in response. The final regulations reflect the feedback the EEOC received.

“Just as the ADAAA was the result of considerable bipartisan effort by Congress, the final rule represents a concerted effort of EEOC Commissioners representing both parties to arrive at regulations that hold true to that bipartisan Congressional intent,” said EEOC Commissioner Constance S. Barker. “I was pleased to have been able to vote in favor of the final rule.”

Defining Disability

What’s more, the ADAAA and the final regulations keep the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability. But the law made significant changes in how those terms are interpreted and the regulations implement those changes.

The guidelines include a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability. For instance, according to the EEOC, “the principles state 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.”

Coverage Made Easier

Under the new law, the focus for establishing coverage is on how a person has been treated because of a physical or mental disability, rather than on what an employer may have believed about the nature of the person’s disability.

“Based on the hard work we did at the commission over the past months, I am confident that these regulations will work well for both people with disabilities and employers,” said EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum. “It was our job as an agency to carry out the intent of this landmark law and I believe we have done so successfully.”

For more information, the EEOC has a question and answer section on its web site: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adaaa_info.cfm