What is a Disability?

Many individuals with a disability are able to apply for and perform jobs without accommodations; however, some individuals with a disability will need reasonable accommodations to permit opportunity to participate in the job application process and/or perform various job functions. This section will review disability, employer’s knowledge of disability, the interactive process, employee and employer obligations, reasonable accommodation and roles within the process. It is important to note that the word “employer” in this section refers to “any member in management”.

Disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is three pronged 1, a physical or mental impairment, 2, that substantially limits, 3, one or more major life activities. The ADA Amendments Act greatly altered the definition of disability and many health conditions that had previously not been considered disabilities are now considered disabilities.

Specific to an individual, disability is a mental or physical condition (including side effects of medications or treatment) that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of having such an impairment or being regarded as having a disability.

  1. Physical or mental impairment means any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin, and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as an intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
  2. Major life activities include, but are not limited to: Caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working; and operation of a major bodily function, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin; normal cell growth; and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions. The operation of a major bodily function includes the operation of an individual organ within a body system.
  3. Substantially limits means the condition limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population.

EEOC General Guidelines

Summary Points

  • More health conditions than ever are considered disabilities under the ADA.
  • Accommodations are meant to reduce/eliminate the limitation caused by the disability to give the applicant/employee opportunity for success, i.e., a level playing field.
  • Not all disability limitations require accommodations.
  • If an employer is aware of a disability, the employer is considered to be “on notice” and employer obligations may exist.ommodations are meant to reduce/eliminate the limitation caused by the disability to give the applicant/employee opportunity for success, i.e., a level playing field.