On September 25, 2008, 18 years after his father signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 into law, President George W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA” or “Act”).
The ADAAA goes a long way in restoring protections that were promised by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but rescinded by unfavorable Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the protections of the statute narrowly.
When the ADA was passed in 1990, it adopted the definition of disability used in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, such that an individual was deemed to have a disability if he or she had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more major life activities, had a record of such an impairment, or was regarded as having such an impairment.
However, the Supreme Court, in 1999, narrowed the definition of disability in their holding in Sutton v. United Air Lines. In Sutton, the Court held that when determining under the ADA if an individual is disabled by an impairment that is substantially limiting, consideration must be given to the effects of mitigating measures such as corrective lenses, medications, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices.
In 2002, the Supreme Court went one step further in Toyota v. Williams by interpreting the word “substantially” contained in the ADA’s definition of disability to mean “considerably” or “to a large degree” and redefined a “major life activity” as one that must be of central importance to most people’s daily lives.
The ADAAA rejects the holdings in Sutton and Toyota as well as portions of the EEOC’s ADA regulations. The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, it changes the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. More specifically the ADAAA: