Monday, August 8, 2011

How Does Impairment Fit In with ADA Disabilities?

As I discussed in my prior post here on the definition of disability under the ADA one must also consider whether they have a qualified impairment under the ADA as well. Unlike the definition for disability under the ADA, the definition of impairment has a more uniform meaning under most regulations.  

Under the ADA an impairment is:
1. any physiological disorder, or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including ability to speak), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine; or
2. any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. 

"Impairment" is a broad term. Correctable nearsightedness has been found to be an impairment. 
On the other hand, one of the most common errors in attempting prove a disability is to mistake diagnosis for disability. A diagnosis, at best, simply shows an impairment. It does not reflect whether that impairment substantially limits a major life activity. The Courts have repeatedly held that the existence of a disability is determined case-by-case. This is particularly true in situations where the impairment is one with symptoms that vary widely from person to person, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Thus a carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis, on its own, does not indicate whether the individual has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. To the contrary several other factors will be needed to determine whether it will qualify as a disability i.e. how profoundly it affects one's life activities.

That being said, whether you have an ADA "impairment", generally,  is reasonably clear and not likely to be litigated if the impairment is obvious or there is a documented diagnosis combined with a substantial limitation on a major life activity.
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