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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                      CONTACT:   Claire Gonzales March 15, 1995                                        Reginald Welch                                                       (202) 663-4900                                                TDD:   (202) 663-4494  


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today released Compliance Manual Section 902: Definition of the Term "Disability" to EEOC investigators and the public. The guidance provides information and instructions for determining whether an individual has a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

In announcing the release of the guidance, EEOC Chairman Gilbert F. Casellas said, "This guidance will not only give EEOC's investigative field staff another effective tool to carry out their enforcement responsibilities in a fair and reasonable manner, it will also help employers and employees to better understand their rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act."

The EEOC has statutory responsibility for enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by private sector employers and state and local governments with 15 or more employees. The ADA, which became effective on July 26, 1992, states that employers must provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified employees with disabilities as long as it does not present an undue hardship in the operation of the employer's business.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. The Commission believes the language of the ADA, if left alone, could be too broadly defined. By explicitly defining the term "disability," the guidance will assist employers and employees in complying with and understanding the ADA, and assist EEOC investigators in enforcing the Act.

The guidance defines and explains the terms "impairment," "major life activities," and "substantially limits," which are important determinants of whether a person has a disability under the ADA. It also addresses the question of how to determine whether an employer should regard an individual as having an impairment that substantially limits the major life activity of working.

According to the guidance:

  • The definition of a disability under the ADA may differ from the definition of a disability under other laws.
  • An investigator should not consider the availability of mitigating measures that lessen or temporarily relieve a person's disability, such as medication, prosthetic devices, or auxiliary aids, when determining whether an individual has a disability under the ADA.
  • An impairment is defined as a physiological disorder affecting one or more of a number of body systems, or a mental or psychological disorder. Conditions such as physical characteristics, common personality traits, and environmental, cultural, and economic disadvantages are not defined as impairments under the ADA.
  • Added to the list of major life activities previously identified by the EEOC are mental and emotional processes, such as thinking, concentrating, and interacting with other people. Other major life activities cited by the EEOC include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, sitting, standing, and lifting.
  • The duration of an impairment is one of the factors to consider when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. It is not essential for an impairment to be permanent to be considered a disability -- for instance, it is possible for temporary impairments that take a significantly long time to heal, long-term impairments, or potentially long-term impairments of indefinite duration to be considered disabilities. However, short-term, temporary impairments or restrictions generally are not defined as substantially limiting and, therefore, generally do not qualify as disabilities under the ADA.
  • A person currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs does not have a disability for ADA purposes. An individual who is not engaging in such use has a disability if there is a record or perception that the individual is or was addicted to drugs.

To obtain copies of the guidance, write to: EEOC, Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs, 1801 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20507.

This page was last modified on January 15, 1997.