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ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)

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The American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was passed by congress in order to establish national standards to protect individuals with disability from discrimination. This document was the first of its kind to give individuals with disability a legal recourse if they face unfair treatment. With the passage of time, several supreme court cases generated rulings which "have narrowed the broad scope of protection intended to be afforded by the ADA, thus eliminating protection for many individuals whom Congress intended to protect." In order to rectify this congress created the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 to revise the definition of disability and ensure broad protection for this minority group under the law.


ADA Basics

The ADA defines disability as (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. The document contains 5 titles each seeking to address the treatment of people with disability in different aspects of society; Title I: Employment Title II: Public Services Title III: Public Accommodation Title IV: Telecommunications Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions.

Purpose of the Amendment

The Amendment Act of 2008 was created because several court cases undermined the ADAs broad coverage and initial intent. Two key court cases which fueled the amendments development were; Sutton v. United Airlines and Toyota Motor v. Williams. These two court cases set a high standard for what it means to be disabled with "substantial limits one or more major life activities". This amendment primarily addresses this by adding sections to further clarify "substantially limits" and "major life activities" as well as other nuances under the definition of disability.

Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471 (1999)

Two myopic twins with 20/200 vision applied to be airline pilots for United Airlines. These twins with corrective measures functionally were visually comparable to people without impairments but did not meet the airlines standard for 20/100 vision without corrective measures and therefore were denied employment. They filed suit under the ADA for discrimination due to their disability. The court determined that "petitioners were not actually disabled under subsection (A) of the disability definition because they could fully correct their visual impairments... A “disability” exists only where an impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity, not where it “might,” “could,” or “would” be substantially limiting if corrective measures were not taken." The terminology "substantially limits" was interpreted to add an element of severity that made the twins case unsubstantiated since their vision could be fully "corrected". This case set a president which minimized the definition of disability initially intended when the ADA was written.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002)

In this case the defendant sued her former employer Toyota under the ADA, for failing to accommodate her carpal tunnel syndrome. The court determined that the defendant did not qualify as disabled under the ADA because it was not shown that the "...limitation on the major life activity is substantial." Since the ADA does not qualify the term substantial its vagueness is used here to undermine the intention of the act.

Amendment Features

The major features of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 are concentrated in enhancing the definition of disability under the act and describing the findings and purposes for this change. The main components of the amendment will be summarized by section and can be found in their entirety here ADA Amendment Act of 2008 Edits.


Congress found that the courts did not interpret the definition of disability in a consistent manner. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also defined "substantially limits" function in as "significantly restricted" which is a higher standard than intended.


The purpose of the amendment is to set a broader definition for disability and reject the presidents set by cases such as Sutton v. United Airlines and Toyota Motor v. Williams. Specifically the purposes section indicates that a "question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis" thereby lowering the high standards from the courts.

Definition of Disability

While the basic definition of disability from the ADA is maintained several sections of descriptors are added in the amendment to clarify the terminology used. "Major life activities" is described as activities of daily living (ADLs), work related activities and bodily functions. A person is further defined as disabled if they are subjected to prohibited actions listed in the ADA whether or not that disability limits major life activities. In addition, a disabilities substantial limitation is evaluated without regard for "mitigating measures" aka assistive devices etc. It is explicitly said that a episodic impairment is considered a disability when active.

Additional Definitions

This additional section further defines auxiliary aids and services by listing out some of the types of devices that this category includes such as interpreters and readers.



  • ADA Revised Last updated June 15, 2009. Accessed on December 5, 2010.