What is the meaning of 'disabled' for ADA purposes?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in various situations. One of the most important effects of the ADA is that it prevents employers from discriminating against the people whom it employs, or prospective employees, because of a disability. However, residents of Oklahoma may not be aware of the definition of disability for the purposes of qualifying for protection under the Act.

In order to determine whether one qualifies under the ADA, it is important to understand that the definition of disabled is a legal concept, not a medical one. Under the law, a person is considered disabled if he or she has a mental or physical condition that substantially impairs his or her ability to perform a major life activity. As is often the case with legal analysis, one definition leads to another. A "major life activity," is one that is integral to most people's daily lives. Basically, it might encompass those functions that are necessary for a person to care for him or herself, such as walking, eating, breathing, or manual activities that one might perform in the course of normal living.

It is important to understand what situations the ADA protects a disabled person against. The law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person who meets the legal definition of disabled under the Act in hiring or promoting that person, as well as requiring that the employer make reasonable accommodations for that person's disability. This does mean, however that the disabled individual must be qualified for the job for which he or she is applying. There are other aspects of the law that go beyond the scope of this post, such as the fact that employers cannot discriminate against someone for associating with disabled people. If you have a question about a specific situation under the ADA, you may wish to contact an experienced legal professional.

Source: ADA National Network, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Sept. 1, 2014