Definition of Disability

What Do We Mean By Disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment and public access.  To have a disability under the ADA, a candidate for employment or a current employee must have a physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.  Other means of coverage under the law exist, but they would not normally impact a candidate for employment who is taking an assessment.

The ADA defines a disability as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.  However, it need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability. Some impairments are serious enough to be assumed to be disabilities, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis or HIV+ status. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity is made regardless of the effect of medical intervention, using assistive technology, implementing reasonable accommodations or learned/adaptive behavior.  Glasses or contact lenses are the only medical mitigating devices that can be considered in evaluating whether one is disabled under the ADA.

Not all impairments are easy to identify.  While some conditions are visible, there are many that are not so visible or obvious. Where a candidate has a disability that is not obvious, an interviewer or a person administering an assessment should not ask about potential disabilities.  At the pre-employment stage, all one can ask the candidate is whether he or she can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Areas of Disability

As we have seen, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes how a disability may be defined.  It does not set out in detail all disabilities/impairments that would fall within the definition of a disability.  We will focus on five core areas of disability. Please click on the text below to view more details about each area.