Yesterday, September 25, 2008, President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), which will expand the protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The ADAAA passed the Senate by unanimous consent on September 11 and was approved by a voice vote in the House of Representatives less than a week later. Its significant changes to the ADA will take effect January 1, 2009.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual with a “disability,” defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the individual’s major life activities. The ADAAA is designed to reverse several rulings by the United States Supreme Court that the law describes as having improperly restricted ADA coverage by narrowly interpreting the term “disability.” In one such case, the Court held that when deciding whether an individual is protected by the ADA, courts need to take into account mitigating measures that might ameliorate the effects of the condition, such as medication or other treatment. In other cases, the Court strictly enforced the requirement that an impairment substantially limit a “major life activity” to be a covered disability, and narrowly construed what sort of activities would be considered “major life activities” for purposes of the ADA.