Who is Protected By The ADA?

Every person is covered who either has, used to have, or is treated as having a physical or mental disability.

Persons With Disabilities

The law protects any person with a "physical or mental impairment" that "substantially limits one or more major life activity". This definition may include:

  • persons with mobility impairments, such as those who suffer from paralysis or use wheelchairs, crutches or walkers;
  • persons who have lost one or more limbs;
  • persons who are deaf or are hearing impaired;
  • persons who have mental or psychological disorders including metal retardation, emotional and mental illness and learning disabilities;
  • persons with any one of hundreds of psychological disorders including depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome;
  • persons with cosmetic disfigurements, such as burn victims;
  • persons with numerous serious contagious and non-contagious diseases, including AIDS, AIDS-related complex, epilepsy, cancer and tuberculosis.

What Is Not Covered?

  • Eye color, hair color, height, weight (except in unusual circumstances).
  • Advanced age in and of itself is not an impairment (although hearing loss, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease may be impairments).
  • Temporary impairments, such as a broken leg, sprain or infection that is expected to heal quickly.
  • Temporary illnesses such as the common cold.
  • Minor impairments that do not limit a major life activity.

Association

The ADA protects persons who have a known association or relationship with a disabled individual. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee or refuse to hire an applicant because he or she is dating someone with AIDS, or has a parent or child with a serious illness.

Record of Impairment

Persons with a record of an impairment are protected. This would include anybody with a history of a disability, such as individuals who have undergone psychiatric counseling or have been previously disabled, or someone who has a history of cancer that is in remission.

Regarded As Disabled

If you consider a person to be "disabled", the ADA applies and protects them, even if that person does not meet the statutory definition. (See definitions.) This would include, for example, an individual who has an impairment that the employer erroneously perceives is substantially limiting; an individual with an impairment that is only substantially limiting because of the attitudes of others, e.g., an employer that discriminates against a burn victim because of potentially negative reactions of others; or an individual with no impairment that is erroneously regarded as having an impairment.

The inclusion of coverage for persons "regarded as" disabled means that if an employer rejects an applicant because he has a physical or mental condition, this may be enough to bring this person within the definition of "disability".

Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Persons who have suffered form drug addition in the past are protected, but not if they are currently using illegal drugs. Persons suffering from alcoholism are also protected, but can be required to conform to the same standards as other employees.