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New Regulations Would Make it Easier for People to Establish Disability Under ADA

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) voted today to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, which would make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability.

The Commission voted 2-1 to adopt the rules changes, at a public meeting this morning at the agency’s Washington headquarters. The five-member body has two vacancies.

The rules changes approved today represent an initial stage in the regulatory process and must next go to the Office of Management and Budget for review, and to federal agencies pursuant to Executive Order 12067, without public comment.

“In approving these proposed regulations, the EEOC today is taking a significant step toward returning the ADA to the broad and strong civil rights statute that Congress originally intended it to be,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “The proposed regulations will permit individuals with disabilities to participate to the fullest extent possible in the American workplace.”

Acting EEOC Vice Chair Christine M. Griffin said, “Today’s vote is historic. These regulations will serve to shift the focus of the courts from further narrowing the definition of disability and putting it back to where Congress intended when the ADA was enacted in 1990. Courts should now focus on whether discrimination based on disability is occurring in the workplace. The protections afforded by the ADA AA and these new regulations are important for all workers including our returning wounded warriors who certainly deserve the right to re-enter a workforce free of discrimination.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an antidiscrimination statute, was signed into law in July 1990. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The statute requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees and job applicants with disabilities—defined as people with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, persons with a record of a disability, or who, while not actually disabled, are regarded as disabled.

The ADA Amendments Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009, makes important changes to the definition of the term "disability" by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC's prior ADA regulations. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability as defined by the ADA. The ADAAA emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.

The ADAAA also states that Congress expects the EEOC to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by Act, and expressly authorizes the EEOC to do so.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at