A person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental
impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life
activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as
having such an impairment. A major life
activity includes walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing,
learning, working, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself. A
person’s impairment substantially limits a
major life activity depending on the nature and severity of the
impairment, the duration of the impairment, and the permanency or
long-term impact. (Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law
This definition is extremely broad. It includes
but is not limited to:
Persons with mobility impairments, such as those who suffer
from paralysis or use wheelchairs, crutches or walkers;
Persons who have lost one or more limbs;
Persons who are blind or have visual impairments;
Persons who are deaf or hearing–impaired;
Persons who have mental or psychological disorders;
Persons with learning disabilities;
Persons with attention deficit or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;
Persons with cosmetic disfigurements;
Persons with one or many serious contagious, and non-contagious
diseases, including AIDS, AIDS-related complex, epilepsy, cancer
What Is Not Covered
Eye color, hair color, height, weight (except in unusual
circumstances where obesity is the result of a medical condition).
Advanced age in and of itself is not an impairment (although
hearing loss, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease are impairments).
Temporary impairments, such as a broken leg, sprain or
infection that is expected to heal quickly, would not be
Illiteracy or poverty (although inability to read because of a physical impairment or a specific
learning disability is covered).
Minor impairments that do not limit a major life activity.
What is “Record of Impairment?”
An individual has a “record” of having an impairment
when s/he has a history of a disability, whether or not s/he is currently substantially limited in a major life
activity. Such disabilities may include a history of heart
disease, cancer, or mental illness.
What is “Regarded as Disabled?”
An individual is “regarded” as having an impairment when
s/he is perceived or treated as having an impairment although no impairment exists. For example, an
individual who speaks slowly may be regarded as having a mental
impairment, although no impairment exists.
The ADA protects individuals who have a known association or relationship with a person with a
disability. For example, a public entity may not
discriminate against the companion of a person with cerebral
palsy. Or, an employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant because
s/he is dating someone with AIDS.
Alcoholics and Drug Addicts
Drug addicts or persons who have suffered from drug addiction
in the past are protected but not if they are currently using
illegal drugs. Persons suffering from alcoholism are covered even
if they are not in rehabilitation, however, they can be required to
conform to the same standards as other employees or students.