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How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

Consultants' Corner: Volume 5, Issue 04

From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Director of Services and Publications


The ADAAA made major changes to the definition of disability, leading employers to question how to determine whether an employee now has a disability. For ADA purposes, this question typically comes up when an employee requests an accommodation, so the following are practical tips for employers making disability determinations related to accommodation requests.

If the requested accommodation is something you provide for all employees, then you do not need to determine whether the employee has a disability; you can just give the employee what he/she asked for.

If the requested accommodation is not something you provide for all employees, then you may choose to make a disability determination before granting the request; the disability determination is not required.

The definition of disability is an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. So when determining whether an employee has a disability, you need to know:

  1. Does the employee have an impairment? If yes,
  2. Does the impairment affect a major life activity? If yes,
  3. Does the impairment substantially limit the major life activity? Keep in mind:
    • If an impairment is on the EEOC's list of conditions that are virtually always disabilities, get the diagnosis and move on to making the accommodation. If not on the list:

And remember, the definition of disability is now very broad so if you are not sure whether an employee has a disability, err on the side of caution and process the accommodation request. Accommodations are not typically costly and the benefits usually far outweigh the costs, so what do you have to lose!


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